Latest statewide overdose stats show Boyle headed in right direction, but work still needed
Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, August 6, 2019
By KATHY MILES
The 2018 statistics on drug overdose deaths are out, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After a few years of horrible news, the numbers give us some hope. They also lead us to know the current addiction crisis is not yet over.
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The newest national statistics indicate that the total number of Americans who died from a drug overdose in 2018 decreased from about 70,000 in 2017 to around 69,000. This is obviously not a huge drop, but the losses are going in the right direction.
1,247 Kentucky residents are reported in the same CDC report as having died of drug overdoses in 2018 — a decrease from 1,477 in 2017. It is significant to note that deaths due to prescription opioids and heroin use were lower. But, the use of Fentanyl is increasingly a killer of Kentuckians. It is also important to note that many deaths were attributed to the use of a combination of substances, including methamphetamine, which is on the rise locally and across the country.
Boyle County resident deaths from drug overdoses went down from eight in 2017, to five in 2018. 2016 was our worst year on record — we had 16 Boyle Countians die from overdoses in that year. Not all counties in Kentucky posted a decrease in overdose deaths. Unfortunately, some — like Lincoln County — actually increased in 2018.
The decrease in deaths in Boyle County must first be attributed to the work of area first responders. Every day, emergency squad members, law enforcement and members of the fire department are literally putting their own safety on the line to respond to drug use emergencies in our county. They do their jobs at the risk of exposure to extremely lethal drugs, and the number of lives saved represents many hours of hard work. Ephraim McDowell’s emergency room staff are also part of the team of people who respond on a 24-hour basis to overdoses in the local area. All of these folks deserve our thanks and continuing support.
The availability of naloxone (brand name of Narcan) is doubtlessly another contributor to the lower overdose death rate in Boyle County. Over the past few years, Boyle County ASAP has been awarded harm reduction grants from Kentucky ASAP to provide free naloxone and overdose response training to a wide variety of community organizations, individuals and families. National research confirms our local experience — that when communities greatly increase the availability of naloxone and overdose prevention training, the overdose deaths decrease.
We also believe that our deaths may have decreased because of the number of local people with substance use disorders who have been able to enter treatment and begin the recovery process. Although significant needs still exist, our local resources for various levels of treatment and recovery support are definitely better than they were a year ago.
So, there is some very good news coming out of these newest statistics. That information directs us toward continuing to work toward the goal of having no overdose deaths in our county. There are still organizations who should keep naloxone at their places of business and service; there are still many families with members at risk for having an overdose who should have naloxone in their homes and know how to use it.
And, there is still stigma and misunderstanding around substance use disorders which prevents people from asking for help and seeking treatment for themselves and their family members.
Those five deaths in Boyle County should not be overlooked or forgotten. We must not fail to note that those families are grieving those losses, and that their lives are forever changed because of these tragedies. Good communities provide support to the bereaved, even as the ongoing work of preventing future deaths continues. Good communities live out the belief that all lives matter.
On Sept. 12, Boyle County will again host our International Overdose Awareness night at First Christian Church. Our event will include both a time to grieve and remember those lost, as well as education on Casey’s Law, a Kentucky statute which allows family members to secure mandated treatment for their loved ones. This is just one opportunity to continue the work that is making a difference, in a fight that is far from over.