Health

Health officials in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia say the number of overdose deaths related to the opioid crisis continued to rise in 2017 as state data began to reflect the fatalities related to the powerful drug fentanyl.

A new report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy found 1,565 died from drug overdoses last year, up 11.5 percent from 2016.

Fentanyl played a factor in more than half of the overdose cases in which a toxicology report was available.

“Fentanyl is the deadliest and most addictive drug our nation has ever seen,” Van Ingram, KODCP executive director, said in a news release. “The fact that people continue to use it – despite the obvious risk – shows just how addictive these drugs are. That’s why we have to make every effort to intervene with a comprehensive treatment response.”

Preliminary data from the Ohio Department of Health indicate 4,849 state residents died from drug overdoses in 2017, a nearly 20 percent increase.

And the Bureau of Public Health in West Virginia reports an estimated 32 percent increase in 2017.

Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin, is believed to be the driving cause of the increase in these two states as well.  

Statistics indicate the grim totals will not decrease this year.

West Virginia’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta said the total number of fatal overdoses so far in 2018 indicate a higher toll in his state than last year.

But the news is not entirely bleak.

The projected rate of increase appears to be leveling off, according to Gupta.

“They went from 2016 to 2017 up about 32 percent,” he said. His department’s projections for 2018 show an increase of about 6 percent compared to 2017. “So we’re certainly seeing a flattening of the curve. Up, but they’re not as up as they were.”   

Gupta anticipates fewer overdose fatalities in future months due to evidence-based approaches to the opioid epidemic across the region. Those include the availability of naloxone, increased medication assisted treatment and the reduction in opioid prescriptions.