Health

The number of overdose deaths in Kentucky continues to rise and a new report shows it’s largely due to a powerful opioid drug that dealers are secretly mixing with heroin.

Over the past year, more drug dealers have been lacing heroin with fentanyl, an opioid that the Drug Enforcement Administration says is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin alone.

The results of this are evident in the state Office of Drug Control Policy’s latest report, which found that there were nearly 300 more fentanyl-related overdoses last year than in 2014.

Director Van Ingram said many overdoses happen because users don’t realize they aren’t taking pure heroin.

“Often people are buying what they think is heroin, which is heroin mixed with fentanyl or just fentanyl itself in a powdered form,” said Ingram.  

Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths of any Kentucky county in 2015 with a total of 268, according to the report. With nearly 60 more deaths than in 2014, it also saw the largest increase in overdose deaths among all counties in the state.

Ingram said areas — like Jefferson County — that already had high instances of drug overdoses were the most affected by fentanyl.

“When you’ve already got a large number of people using heroin, then you introduce a product like fentanyl — that’s going to have tragic results and it has,” Ingram said.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration said Kentucky could receive up to $18 million to combat its opioid and heroin abuse problem if Congress approves President Obama’s $1.1 billion proposal. The White House said funding for each state was determined by the severity of its drug abuse problem and strength of its response strategy.

However, Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli said $18 million is a tentative estimate, and all state funding would be reviewed once the spending proposal was approved.