Some people blame physicians, others blame big Pharma. One finger gets pointed at addicts while the other finger gets pointed at the government. No matter which way you slice it, the opioid epidemic is in full swing, and its impossible to blame just one group of people for it.
The state of Kentucky knows just how pervasive the opioid epidemic is almost more than anyone, as it ranks as one of the top five states with the most overdose deaths in the country. From 2015-2016, the following states had more overdoses than anyone else in the United States:
- West Virginia (52 people per 100,000)
- Ohio (39.1 people per 100,000)
- New Hampshire (39 people per 100,000)
- Pennsylvania (37.9 people per 100,000)
- Kentucky (33.5 per 100,000)
With thousands of people losing their lives on a regular basis throughout the Bluegrass State, a tremendous weight rests on those who are connected to it, such as coroners.
Not Enough Coroners
The job of a coroner is to examine a deceased person to determine the exact causes of his or her death. Throughout Kentucky, there are only 9 coroners – six in Louisville, two in the capital of Frankfurt, and one in Madisonville. And, throughout the United States, there are only about 500 forensic doctors who are currently practicing. The problem is that more people are overdosing from opioids like heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone at a faster rate than ever before, putting coroners in popular demand. And, with only nine practicing coroners throughout the state of Kentucky, there are simply not enough to provide services to the deceased.
In 2016, 14,000 Kentucky citizens died from an overdose. That means that with only nine coroners on the job, each coroner must examine 2.35 bodies each day for the entire year. This is too great of a load to manage, which is why Kentucky is finding new ways to provide these services.
What Can Be Done?
The state of Kentucky has contracted both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky for forensic pathology services in an effort to decrease the workload of the state’s currently employed coroners.
According to Kentucky spokesman Mike Lynn, “the universities will chip in to help the additional responsibilities they’ll take on. The additional pay increase will hopefully bring more people to the profession,” he stated.
By bringing in college students to help provide forensic services alongside the state coroners, they will be able to advance their education by learning hands on. Additionally, they will be privy to experience that is certainly not available in a classroom. And, as stated before, the state hopes that this plan will encourage more students in forensics to become coroners in the state, which will eventually help spread out the workload.
The coroners and other doctors who are involved in the process of providing autopsies and other services to those who have passed due to overdoses can also benefit, as they will be provided with the opportunity to move into teaching at universities, which would result in an increase in salary.
What Does This Mean?
The fact that Kentucky requires more coroners and individuals who are able to provide similar services simply highlights just how severe the opioid epidemic is within this state. Some of the many reasons why the opioid epidemic has become so pervasive and popular are highlighted below.
Increase in prescription of painkillers
Now more than ever before, physicians are prescribing painkillers at an incredible rate. From OxyContin and Vicodin to codeine and Percocet, more and more people are being prescribed these medications to treat conditions such as chronic pain, arthritis, and even cancer. A recent study showed that 55% of the American population is on prescription medications, and each one of those individuals takes an average of four different prescription pills, never mind over-the-counter drugs.
Decrease in treatment for mental illness
One of the biggest topics of national conversation today is about mental illness and how it is not being appropriately treated. One reason why those who are mentally ill do not reach out for help is that they are fearful of what others might think of them if they do. They also might be to a point with their mental health where they are unable to see that they need treatment. Or, individuals might not be able to afford effective mental health treatment. Regardless of the reasons why many of those who struggle with mental illness find themselves abusing drugs like opioids to drown out their symptoms.
Increase in social media
Believe it or not, the increase in social media and the desire to be on all platforms at all times has contributed itself to the rise in opioid addiction. For example, some individuals might become so flooded with images of perfectly photoshopped people that they decide to put themselves under the knife to mirror that image. However, if also struggling with poor self-esteem, these individuals can quickly become addicted to the pain medications that they receive post-surgery. Or, people who utilize social media can become depressed based on what their lives are like in comparison to what the lives of others appear to be like. In an effort to self-medicate those negative feeling, these individuals might abuse opioids and become addicted.
As much as we are consistently flooded with information about drug abuse and addiction, there still remains an ever-present and powerful stigma surrounding those who are addicted to drugs like opioids. The stigma itself is easy to understand, as addiction can feel extremely personal when someone who is addicted does things that end up hurting others but continue to use anyway. However, those who buy into the stigma are only perpetuating a belief that keeps those in need from reaching out for the help they deserve because they are fearful of being treated differently.
Find Help Today
If you, like many others, are addicted to opioids and want to stop, know that you can. While it might be complicated to try to do this on your own, you do not have to. By reaching out for help, we can offer you information, support, and services that will guide you from detox through to therapy and until you transition back into your everyday life. It is our goal to ensure that you or a loved one no longer has to grapple with the symptoms of active addiction. A life free from active addiction is possible with the right amount of dedication and hard work.
If you or a loved one needs help, reach out to us right now. We are here for you.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.