The Heroin Epidemic in Kentucky

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 | By Chris Clancy

Known as “The Bluegrass State,” Kentucky is home to the world-famous Kentucky Derby, is notorious for its bourbon, coal mines and even fried chicken. What it’s lesser known is the devastating effect heroin is having on families. There is a heroin epidemic in Kentucky. Unfortunately, Kentucky is on par with significantly increasing national trends in heroin use and fatalities caused by overdose.

According to the 2016 Overdose Fatality Report issued from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, 1404 people lost their lives to an overdose in 2015, an increase from the previous year, in which 1248 overdose cases were reported. Toxicology reports were available for 1330 of those deaths, revealing 34 percent were caused by heroin.

Jefferson County topped the list in overdoses – 364 total, which is up from 268 in the 2015 report. The county also saw the largest increase in overdose fatalities – from 268 deaths in 2015 to 364 in 2016. The Kentucky Medical Examiner and coroner report revealed the remaining counties that rounded out the top five in overdoses were Fayette, Kenton, Campbell and Boone Counties.

Why is there a Heroin Epidemic in Kentucky?

Heroin is a highly addictive drug that can be injected, smoked or snorted. It’s processed from morphine, a natural substance extracted from poppy plants. Kentucky is not alone in the struggle with heroin drug addiction and overdose. A nation-wide increase can largely be attributed to the opioid epidemic. People with a history of abusing prescription drugs often turn to heroin because it’s easier to obtain and it’s incredibly cheaper. On the street for instance, an 80-milligram OxyContin pill costs anywhere from $60 to $100 while heroin costs about $9 a dose.

Heroin-Related Overdose Deaths in the U.S. have more than quadrupled since 2010. From 2014 to 2015, heroin overdose death rates increased by 20.6 percent, with nearly 13,000 people dying in 2015.

A significant danger is the amount of heroin being laced with fentanyl. Nearly half the overdoses reported in Kentucky can be attributed to fentanyl by itself or combined with heroin. Because of its potency and toxicity, fentanyl can kill quickly.

The Dangers of Fentanyl

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate 50-100 times more potent than morphine. A schedule II prescription drug, fentanyl is typically used during anesthesia or to manage pain after surgery. Recent overdoses, however, have been linked to illegally manufactured fentanyl. Overdoses should be treated immediately, as the combination of fentanyl and heroin amplifies the potency and risk of death.

Kentucky’s Response to the Heroin Epidemic

A major response to the crisis is Bill 192, referred to as “The Heroin Bill,” which introduced stronger penalties for dealers and traffickers and promised funds to make treatment more widely available, funneling $24 million annually into the state’s addiction treatment system. The bill also helps increase the availability of Naxalone, administered to revers heroin overdose. The “Good Samaritan” provision will also protect anyone from prosecution that assists someone in an overdose.


If you or a family member are suffering from an addiction to heroin, we can help. Contact our admissions department to learn more about our opioid treatment programs.



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