Health

There appear to have been fewer heroin overdoses over Labor Day weekend than the previous week, both in Louisville and across the state.

According to state health officials, there were 15 suspected overdoses across the state during the holiday weekend, 12 of which resulted in death. Five of those overdoses were reported by Norton Hospital, Norton Audubon Hospital, Norton Women’s and Kosair Children’s Hospital and Norton Brownsboro Hospital — all in Louisville.

Louisville EMS treated 18 overdose calls with naloxone over the weekend, the heroin antidote, according to officials there. That compared with 26 the previous weekend.

The recent surge prompted health care professionals and public officials to make pleas for caution, as a batch of heroin thought to be laced with Carfentanil, an elephant sedative, and fentanyl, a cancer drug, continued to make its way through Kentucky and the region.

On the night of Aug. 30, there were nearly 30 suspected heroin overdoses reported in Louisville alone.

But the lower overdose numbers over the Labor Day weekend may not give a complete picture. Official numbers for this month won’t be known until December or January, when hospitals turn in all patient data, including overdoses, to the Kentucky Hospital Association Until then, any information is voluntarily turned in to the state, and hospitals can opt out.

“It will look like you have a hotspot in one place and you won’t have the whole picture,” says Svetla Slavova, associate professor with the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center that produces the official drug overdose statistics for the state.

She says there’s no systematic way to collect overdose information from hospitals because of the high volume of drug overdoses. Right now, hospitals call in or email information. She says the ideal would be a system using electronic health record information that would hide a patient’s identity. The Center is already working with the Department for Public Health and the Kentucky Health Information Exchange to develop that system.

This would make it easier to stock up on naloxone, alert communities and develop programs for drug users.

“If we want to assess whether we have adequate capacity for naloxone, we need to know [how many overdoses are happening and where] — if not in real time than within a few hours,” Slavova says.

Kentucky’s top public health officials last Friday spoke to more than 400 health care providers about how to prepare for the holiday weekend. Hospitals were urged to report overdoses.

“If this is happening during a regular weekday, we were concerned there would be even more use over a holiday weekend,” said Connie White, clinical affairs deputy commissioner at the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.