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Anything more than zero is too many overdose deaths

By KATHY MILES

Boyle County ASAP

Our community — like those across this state and country — is looking for good news when it comes to the opioid crisis. We’ve had a lot of bad news in the past few years. We have been looking for proof that the hard work, commitment and implementation of evidence-based strategies is making a real difference in increasing the number of people receiving treatment for substance use disorders, increasing the number of people in recovery who successfully reenter the workforce, decreasing the number of people arrested for substance-use related crimes, and decreasing the number of deaths to drug overdoses. In all of this work,  it is well recognized that positive outcomes generally take time, but a little bit of good news can go a long way to keep people hopeful about changing this public health crisis.

Bad news came for our state last week when Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy issued the 2017 drug overdose death statistics. We lost 1,565 Kentuckians to drug overdoses last year, compared to 1,404 in 2016 — an 11.5 percent increase. Deaths attributed to heroin declined a little, but deaths due to the use of fentanyl, one of the strongest narcotics available, increased. Gov. Bevin expressed the serious nature of this news when he said, “The gravity of today’s report underscores just how much is at stake in the ongoing battle against the nation’s opioid epidemic.”  He called it a “scourge” and promised to continue to make needed resources available.

The report included county-by-county overdose death statistics. Some counties showed significant increases in deaths; others reported decreases. The counties with the highest overdose death rates based on their population were Kenton, Campbell, Boyd, Mason and Jessamine counties.

Boyle County got some good news: Our number of overdose deaths fell from 19 in 2016 to eight in 2017.  But the Boyle County number is eight too many. It represents pain, suffering and hardship for family and friends of those persons. The goal must always be no deaths due to overdose. We can find hope in the 2017 decrease, but not without recognizing the meaning of these losses to the community.

The decrease does seem to reflect local strategies that have been implemented to decrease deaths.  Boyle County EMS is to be thanked for continuing the good and hard work of treating overdose victims. They are administering Naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, to save many Boyle County lives. Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center is also to be thanked for the emergency room treatment they provide where EMS leaves off. Much appreciation goes to our local law enforcement, Danville Police and Boyle County Sheriff’s Department, who continue to work tirelessly to get drug trafficking out of Boyle County. And Boyle County ASAP, with funding provided by Kentucky ASAP, has overseen the distribution of almost 200 Naloxone kits to community organizations, families of people with addictions, law enforcement, and EMS over the past year.

Last week, in the midst of the bad news of overdose deaths, the state also received some promising news.  The latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll reported a significant decrease in Kentuckians reporting that they had been prescribed pain pills in the past five years. In the 17-county region around Lexington, which includes Boyle, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties, 62 percent said they had not been prescribed pain medication requiring a prescription in the past five years. This apparent change in prescribing patterns is also being reflected in ongoing state KASPER reports which monitor scheduled drug prescriptions. This is important news because so many folks with opioid addictions today are reporting that their use began with a legal prescription.   

It is often said that the work of substance-use disorder treatment, prevention, education and the related criminal justice and law enforcement work is “messy business.” Good results don’t always come immediately, and discouragement and losing hope can be a result of that. Our task is to continue the work, based on solid, updated research available on best practice. Paying attention to both good and bad news is a must.

On Aug. 30, Boyle County will be participating in International Overdose Awareness Day with a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. at Indian Hills Christian Church. Community members lost to drug overdoses will be memorialized and recommitment to the work of preventing all future drug overdose deaths will be part of the evening. All community members are invited to attend. Bad news will not be ignored on that night, and good news will reignite in us hope for a better future together. As hard as it is to put the bad and the good together, it is the way forward.

Kathy Miles is the coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Inc.