Police and health officials in Louisville are concerned that a fortified supply of heroin is to blame for a spike in overdoses this month.
The first days of March have brought a 65 percent increase over the previous two months in the number of times Louisville Metro police officers have been called to administer the overdose-fighting medication Naloxone, said Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said on Monday.
Overdose deaths are also spiking this year, Conrad said.
Police report 34 overdose deaths related to heroin use through March 9. During the same time last year, that number was 13.
Officers began carrying Naloxone in January as a pilot program, Conrad said. By February, the medication had been distributed department-wide.
Conrad, along with interim director of the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Sarah Moyer and Barbara Weakley-Jones, the Jefferson County Coroner, held a media briefing Monday afternoon to bring attention to the surge.
Weakley-Jones said many overdose victims this year are being found to have high traces of Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
Conrad said it’s likely heroin dealers are mixing Fentanyl with heroin to create more product. The process also leads to varying potency levels; some doses are much stronger than users are accustomed to and can result in an overdose.
Weakley-Jones said there were eight overdose deaths in Louisville this weekend. She said most overdose victims are white and middle-class. She quickly added that no race, ethnicity or economic class is immune to the addiction.
Although the data provided are preliminary, Moyer said the increase is somewhat expected “based on what has been happening in other cities across the country.”
Moyer also encouraged more people to seek addiction treatment, adding that the stronger strain of heroin in the city right now is making the Naloxone less effective. She said police officers are using multiple doses to stabilize users.
Conrad added officers are also seizing more heroin than in past months. That, coupled with falling street prices for heroin, leads him to believe there is a glut of product available in Louisville, he said.
The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness will be offering free Naloxone kits to residents Tuesday evening at its main office, at 400 Gray St.