Kentucky sees decline in drug overdose deaths for second straight year

Republished from WEKU.

In 2023, the number of people who died from overdoses in Kentucky fell by nearly 10%.  This marks the second year in a row the commonwealth has seen a decline in overdose deaths.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear earlier this year announced the number of lives lost to drug overdoses. He said this is sadly something that is all to common for Kentucky’s citizens.

“ Too many lives and too many children of God have been lost to substance abuse, at this point all of us in this state have lost somebody, most of us have lost multiple people to a fatal overdose.”

 According to the 2023 Kentucky Drug Overdose Fatality Report, overdose deaths in the commonwealth decreased for the second year in a row, with 2023 seeing a 9.8% decrease compared with the previous year. The governor said it’s still painful for those who are left behind.

“My heart goes out to the family and the friends of those who were lost in the last year, and we recognize while we celebrate progress, there’s a lot of heartbreak and pain because of this epidemic that continues.”

Just under two thousand Kentuckians lost their lives last year to a drug overdose. Fentanyl accounted for 79.1%, and methamphetamine accounted for 55.2% of overdose deaths.

In 2022, Kentucky’s drug overdose deaths declined by 5% compared with 2021, marking the first decline since 2018. Kentucky was one of only eight states to see a decrease in overdose deaths while the nation saw a slight increase.

Van Ingram is Kentucky’s Executive Director of the office of Drug Control Policy. He said part of Kentucky’s success is due to collaborations across the entire state.

“There is no one agency or one group of people who can claim ownership of this success. It’s people all over this state, it’s public health workers, it’s EMS workers, it’s advocates, it’s syringe services programs, it’s so many things.”

One of those collaborative efforts, Ingram said, is the Recovery Ready Community Program. The program offers local officials, recovery advocates, and concerned citizens the opportunity to evaluate their community’s current Substance Use Disorder treatment programs in a way that is designed to improve positive public health outcomes among those suffering from SUD. Ingram said this program was launched in 2023 and has been a great success.

“We couldn’t keep up with all the applications process, I challenged us to get ten more in 2024 and we’re going to surpass that. They don’t get anything for doing this, only thing communities get is that bragging right that “we’re a recovery ready community.” That’s enough for our communities in Kentucky, because they want that designation.”

Katherine Marks is the commissioner of the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. She said efforts aimed at youth prevention have also been a key factor.

“By building protected factors like connection and help seeking and reducing risk factors like adverse childhood experiences.”

Marks said the fear being looked down upon by friends and family keeps many people from speaking out about their problems.

“We’re fighting back against the stigma that perpetuates shame and isolation. UNSHAME Kentucky is our state’s anti-stigma campaign. In the past six months alone, it has had 2.8 million video views.”

UNSHAME Kentucky is a statewide campaign to destigmatize opioid use disorder by providing education on related topics and sharing the stories of people whose lives have been affected by opioid use disorder.

While fighting the stigma is part of it, dealing with those who experience an overdose as it’s happening is vital to their survival. Marks said they’re helping there too.

“Life saving naloxone, we can’t say it enough, we give over 13,000 kits away each month in this state and we will continue to increase that number.”

While the over all numbers look better, Governor Beshear said Kentucky still has work to do.

“Look, this is still far too many lives that have been lost, and we still have a long way to go. Celebrating success, celebrating doing better, celebrating having a better year is what gives us the strength to do even more, to push even harder.”

Part of working harder is helping those who are still dying. The fatality report shows an increase in overdose death among Black Kentuckians. While overall deaths are down the rate of Black Kentuckians has increased 5%.

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Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.