Kentucky: Heroin overdoses rise as painkiller overdoses drop

Feb. 22, 2014 at 7:23 PM
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LEXINGTON, Ky., Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Kentucky heroin overdose deaths and emergency department visits increased from 2011 to 2012, while prescription painkiller overdoses dropped, officials say.

A report by the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health analyzed overdose morbidity and mortality among the state's residents. Overall, in 2012, there were 6,496 overdose emergency department visits and 1,031 overdose deaths, compared with 6,492 and 1,022, respectively in 2011, the report said.

Heroin contributed to 129 Kentucky resident drug overdose deaths in 2012, a 207 percent increase from the 42 heroin-involved deaths recorded in 2011. There was a 174 percent increase in inpatient hospitalization and a 197 percent increase in hospital emergency room visits related to heroin.

Pharmaceutical opioids, or painkillers, remained the primary cause of overdose deaths in the state.

Benzodiazepines -- such as Librium or Valium -- remained the primary drugs involved in Kentucky resident drug overdose emergency room visits, and hospitalizations in 2012 decreased 9 percent from a high of 939 visits in 2011 to 856 visits in 2012.

Intent to self‐harm was the primary reason for hospitalizations due to overdose, similar to years 2000‐2011, the report said.

While the contribution of prescription opioids and benzodiazepines to drug overdoses decreased from 2011 to 2012, there was a precipitous increase in heroin involvement in overdose deaths, inpatient hospitalizations and emergency room visits during the same period.

The spike in drug abuse and overdoses involving heroin is not unique to Kentucky, the report said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 55 percent increase in heroin-related overdose deaths nationally from 2000 to 2010.

Some substance abuse experts suspect a connection between increased heroin use and decreasing non-medical prescription opiate abuse. Due to efforts such as prescription drug monitoring programs, it has become increasingly difficult to obtain prescription drugs, while heroin has become cheaper and more accessible, the report said.

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