Louisville Courier Journal
Published 4:36 p.m. UTC Jul 27, 2018
The overdose death toll in Kentucky continued to climb last year, taking 1,565 lives.
Four drugs — including two popular pain medications — were detected in more cases than heroin, which was found in fewer cases than in 2016, according to the 2017 Overdose Fatality Report. The findings, from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, offer some key insights and warnings about drugs previously considered safe.
Twice as many Kentucky senior citizens died last year from drug overdoses than teens and young adults.
Eighty victims ages 24 and younger died from overdoses last year, compared to 164 victims ages 55 and older. Two were 75 or older.
Popular anxiety and insomnia medicines can be a dangerous mix when taken in larger doses than prescribed or when mixed with opioid painkillers or alcohol. It’s key to inform all of your doctors — from general practitioner to specialists to psychiatrist — about every medicine you’re taking to avoid dangerous interactions.
Two common prescription drugs were found in a larger percentage of Kentucky deaths than heroin.
► Alprazolam, commonly known by one of its brand names Xanax, was detected in more than one out of every three overdose deaths in the state last year. It’s used to treat anxiety, insomnia, depression and panic disorder.
► Gabapentin, used to treat everything from hot flashes and restless leg syndrome to nerve pain an partial epileptic seizures, was found in 31 percent of the fatalities.
Concerns about gabapentin: Drug touted as a safe alternative to painkillers has been found in more Louisville deaths
‘Russian roulette’: A mother’s warning: He assured me he had drug use under control; now he’s dead
Both alprazolam and gabapentin are considered safe when taken as prescribed. But both can be lethal when taken at high doses or mixed with opioid pain killers or alcohol.
Heroin-related deaths dropped to 22 percent of all Kentucky overdose deaths.
Thirteen Kentucky deaths were linked to carfentanil, a scary elephant tranquilizer never intended for humans. It’s a synthetic opioid similar to fentanyl and is 10,000 times more potent than morphine. It can be secretly hidden in heroin, cocaine, meth and pills.
It’s exact death toll is unknown as routine toxicology tests don’t detect it.
Scary drug stronger than fentanyl: Louisville officials brace for overdoses from people using elephant tranquilizer
Video: Scary elephant drug linked to Louisville overdose
Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, so some doctors call it a game changer that makes experimenting with drugs akin to “Russian roulette.” And it’s so deadly it shatters the adage of waiting for someone to hit rock bottom before seeking treatment.
It’s blamed in more than 64 percent of Jefferson County’s 426 drug deaths last year and 763 deaths statewide.
It’s variations include norfentanyl, blamed in 371 Kentucky deaths; acrylfentanyl, linked to 3 deaths; furanylfentanyl, found in 6 deaths; and methoxyacetylfentanyl — one of the newest illicit opioids infiltrating the heroin market — blamed for one death.
A new and more deadly type of meth is blamed in 29 percent of the state’s death.
Mexican cartels have chemists on staff that mass produce the drug, which is a synthetic — not derived from plants like heroin and cocaine. So it’s now cheaper to buy crystal methamphetamines than to make them in local labs, which used to pose dangers of fires or explosions.
But the imported meth is nearly 100 percent pure, dubbed “ice,” making it much more lethal. And somethings it’s laced with deadly fentanyl.
A big danger: it’s not an opioid, so the popular heroin antidote Narcan, or naloxone, won’t work.
The top age group with the most drug deaths were men and women ages 35-44, with 353 deaths. That’s more than one out of every five statewide drug deaths.
Overdose deaths increased in Jefferson County to 426 last year, but the county isn’t in the Top 5 for most deaths by population.
Starting with the most deaths per capita, those counties were: Kenton and Campbell in Northern Kentucky; Boyd in Eastern Kentucky; Mason in Northern Kentucky; and Jessamine near Lexington.
Reporter Beth Warren: firstname.lastname@example.org; 502-582-7164; Twitter @BethWarrenCJ. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/bethw.7, deaths, Drug, facts, hard, Kentucky