On Friday 13 February, The Courier-Journal reported that the KY House of Representatives debated measures to reform heroin drug laws in the state and apportion more state funding for drug treatment. House legislators passed the bill, HB 213, and lawmakers in the House and the Senate will now be tasked with negotiating a successful heroin bill by the end of the current session. The state lawmakers are facing mounting pressure to finally pass a state heroin bill.
In January 2015 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new data showing that national rates of overdose deaths from opioid drugs and heroin climbed from 2012-2013. The report confirmed what the CDC, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and other health organizations have been saying about heroin and prescription drug abuse for several years: it’s an epidemic that has to be reversed. While it takes a year to assess national trends in drug abuse and overdose, more recent reports in states and localities with the worst drug problems, like Northern Kentucky, suggest that this public health epidemic is still getting worse.
Health officials and addiction professionals continue to search for solutions to the outbreaks of heroin use and overdoses in Kentucky and many other regions across the country. But the heroin and prescription painkiller epidemic has created a secondary crisis—a steep rise in a disorder related to substance use in infants of drug-dependent mothers. Justin Madden reported in the Lexington Herald-Leader on the increasing rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, in babies treated at Lexington’s University of Kentucky Hospital and in hospitals across the state.
In a recent State of the Judiciary speech, Kentucky’s Chief Justice praised the efficacy of Kentucky’s drug courts but emphasized the need the steer more drug offenders toward this rehabilitative option rather than jail time or other sentencing options. Current enrollment in the state’s drug court programs is around 2,000, well below the 2010 high-water mark of 3,000, according to Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. The drug court population has failed to expand as rapidly as Kentucky’s population of heroin users, which is said to be at crisis levels.
Some much-needed resources for treating teens with addiction and substance use disorders will be distributed to 19 treatment centers and organizations across the state of Kentucky. According to recent CDC figures reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky high-school students use heroin at twice the national rate. It’s one picture of an epidemic of drug use and overdose deaths troubling many parts of the state. Addressing teen substance use is an important part of solving Kentucky’s drug crisis, and the state has had a program in development for some time to deliver about $20 million of funding to adolescent treatment organizations.
Kentucky will be getting a much-needed fiscal boost to fight the continuing crisis of prescription drug abuse and overdose. WFPL News reported that on August 5 the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was in Kentucky, in part to award the state with a $1.08 million grant. The Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Boost grant will be used to remedy the drug overdose epidemic that has been devastating many areas of the state, notably Northern and Eastern Kentucky. The three-year grant funding was awarded to five different states currently facing some of the worst crises in prescription drug misuse.
The state’s efforts at reducing overdose deaths may be proving effective in some areas, but heroin overdose rates keep getting worse.
Every year Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy is required to issue a report on the number of drug overdoses that occurred in the state over the past year. The statistics that are compiled are used to track the state’s campaign against the epidemic of heroin and opioid drug use and overdose faced by many of the state’s regions. This year’s report, recently issued, offered some good news and bad. Although the total number of overdose deaths remained the same as the previous year, there’s been an upsurge in heroin overdose deaths.
In July four senators hosted a forum that examined the special plight of women struggling with addiction and substance use problems in the United States. For a number of reasons, the effects of addiction stigma can be particularly hard on women seeking help for a substance use disorder. This special forum brought together addiction experts to discuss issues like the delivery of effective treatment to women with addictions, as well as the unique challenges faced by pregnant women and addicted mothers. Also in attendance was Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who noted some troubling statistics in a summary of the forum, such as the higher frequency of drug use in pregnant teenage women compared to pregnant women aged 26-44, and the much higher rate of increase in overdose deaths in women compared to men over the last decade.
The epidemics of prescription opioid and heroin abuse occurring throughout the country may have much to do with the high rates of painkiller prescriptions that currently exist in many states, particularly in the South and Midwest. States with some of the worst problems with heroin use and overdose deaths, like Kentucky, also rank near the top of the list of the most-prescribing states. From local community action to state and national drug policy, different strategies to solve the drug crisis are being pursued, and now a new painkiller is ready to enter the market that may be more resistant to misuse and overdose.
In response to the surging drug epidemics seen across the country, national agencies and health experts are now developing an enhanced system for monitoring drug trends. In August 2014, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will start funding the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS), which will provide more intensive monitoring of local drug use trends and allow experts to act more quickly to address outbreaks of drug abuse before they spread to other areas. The system will also take advantage of social media platforms to provide information and education to people living in areas where addiction outbreaks are occurring.