Fentanyl blamed for record overdose deaths in Kentucky

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Drug-overdose deaths in Kentucky rose 14.6 percent in Kentucky in 2021, according to the state’s annual report released Monday.

“The drug epidemic is not a Kentucky issue or political issue, but a nationwide issue that is affecting everyone and every state,” Van Ingram, executive director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy, said in a news release. “Our focus over this next year will be on increasing access to clinical care for those suffering from an addiction and offering more harm reduction measures.”

The state recorded 2,250 overdose deaths in 2021. That was 286 more OD deaths than the 1,964 reported in 2020, when the increase from the previous year was 54%.

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Based on a formula comparing overall deaths to population, Lincoln County was 36th of Kentucky’s 120 counties with an overdose death rate of 54.84 deaths per 100,000 people. There were 10 overdose deaths in the county in 2021, according to state records. Boyle County was close behind at 38th with 54.22 deaths per 100,000 and 16 overdose deaths overall.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, disrupting lives and drug treatment, so it got most of the blame for that year’s big increase. But the powerful opioid fentanyl was also becoming more prevalent, creating a “perfect storm” that is still being felt, Ingram said on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight” Monday night. He told The Associated Press, “We’ve never seen one drug this prevalent in the toxicology reports of overdose fatalities.”

Estill County had the highest rate of fatal overdoses in 2021, 148 per 100,000 residents (adjusted for age of the population). It was followed by Gallatin, 146; Perry, 142; Rowan, 131; and Knott, 123.