Anderson ranks near top for overdose deaths

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Per-capita statistics show county 11th in Kentucky


It’s a ranking no one wants, yet it could have been a whole lot worse.

Anderson County ranked 11th in Kentucky in per-capita drug overdose fatalities in 2017, according to a report issued recently by the state’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. 

The county had 11 overdose deaths last year, which equals 48.8 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to the report. By comparison, nearby Franklin County recorded 25 deaths with a rate of 49.5 per 100,000, followed by Bullitt County with 37 deaths at a rate of 46.1. Shelby County reported 11 deaths with a rate of 23.2, while Spencer and Woodford counties each recorded six deaths, and Washington County less than 5, according to the report.

The number of deaths here in 2017 more than doubled the total in 2016, when the county reported less than five.

The counties with the highest per capita death rates were Kenton, Campbell, Boyd, Mason and Jessamine County, with a range between 69.5 in Kenton to 56.5 in Jessamine.

Bart Powell, the county’s director of public safety, said were it not for Narcan, a drug used to revive those who have overdosed, the number of deaths here would have been considerably higher.

“There were two just yesterday (Sunday),” Powell said. “There are 10 or more we are bringing back each month. There’s no scientific way to tell, but from the street perspective, there would have been a lot more deaths.”

Powell said ambulances have carried Narcan for decades, but the recent decision to provide the life-saving drug to police and firefighters has been key to preventing deaths, particularly in rural communities such as Anderson.

“The police often get there first because they’re already out,” he  said. “Their response times, especially in the city, are usually quicker.

“They’ve saved a lot of lives.”

Tim Wright, the county’s director of public health, called Anderson’s ranking troubling, noting it backs up what he’s been saying for years.

“We all know there’s a drug problem in Anderson County,” Wright said. “That’s why the health department felt it necessary to put drug education into the high school for freshman, which is now mandatory to graduate.”

Wright said the drug problem is the reason the health department and Lawrenceburg Police Department teamed up to purchase a drug dog to help officers conduct searches.

“With those two major moves, hopefully we can cut out some of these overdose deaths by cutting back on the availability of these drugs,” he said.

“Maybe we can impact those numbers for next year.”

Statewide, Kentucky saw an 11.5 percent increase in drug-overdose deaths in 2017, with more than half of the them from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin. The number of heroin deaths decreased, but overdose deaths from methamphatime surged, according to to the annual Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy report.

The state recorded 1,565 overdose deaths in 2017, and has toxicology reports for 1,468. Among those, fentanyl was found in 763, or 52 percent, up from 47 percent in 2016.

“Fentanyl is the deadliest and most addictive drug our nation has ever seen,” Van Ingram, executive director of the ODCP, said in a news release. “The fact that people continue to use it – despite the obvious risk – shows just how addictive these drugs are. People have become powerless against them. That’s why we have to make every effort to intervene with a comprehensive treatment response.”

The report also said three other drugs contributed to more overdose deaths last year than heroin: alprazolam, gabapentin and methamphetamine.

Alprazolam is an anti-anxiety medicine that is often known by its brand name Xanax. It was detected in 36 percent of the toxicology reports. Gabapentin, which is sells under the brand names Neurontin, Gralise and Horizant, and is often taken along with other illicit drugs to enhance their effects, was found in 31 percent. Methamphetamine, a stimulant that has long plagued Kentucky, was found in 29 percent, more than double last year’s total.

“Autopsies and toxicology reports from coroners show that approximately 22 percent of overdose deaths involved the use of heroin in 2017, down from 34 percent in 2016,” the report says.

The state’s two most populous counties, Jefferson and Fayette, had the most overdose deaths in 2017, 426 and 123 respectively. The largest numerical increase in overdose fatalities occurred in Jefferson, which had 62 more than in 2016. Fayette went up by 49, Campbell by 26 and Kenton by 17. The largest decrease was in Madison County, which had nine fewer last year than in 2016.

Like last year, most of the Kentucky deaths were among people between 35 and 44, followed by those 25-34, then 45-54.

Gov. Matt Bevin said the report “underscores just how much is at stake in the ongoing battle against the nation’s opioid epidemic. This is a fight we must win for the sake of our families, our communities, and the commonwealth as a whole. We will continue to leverage every available resource to close off the funnel of addiction and to help our fellow Kentuckians who are struggling against this scourge.”

The General Assembly has passed several laws in recent years, including a crackdown on pain clinics, limiting opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a three-day supply (with exemptions), tougher penalties for heroin dealers, more funding for drug treatment, and paying for increased access to naloxone. The attorney general’s office has sued pharmaceutical companies.


Editor’s note: Includes reporting from Kentucky Health News.


 By the numbers

The following Kentucky counties had the highest per-capita rate for overdose deaths in 2017.

1. Kenton

2. Campbell

3. Boyd

4. Mason

5. Jessamine

11. Anderson


 Overdose deaths by age

Think only young people are dying from overdosing on drugs? Think again.

Those between the ages of 35 and 44 comprised the highest number of overdose deaths in the state, followed by 25 to 34 and 45 to 54.

Not that overdoses haven’t killed the very young, too.

There were five children less than a year old killed by overdose in 2017, and two between the ages of 5 and 14.

Age Frequency

Under 1 5

5-14 2

15-24 73

25-34 295

35-44 353

45-54 291

55-64 143

65-74 19

75-83 2



Need help, answers?

Those who suspect a loved one is using drugs are welcome to call Paul Barrick of HEROES at 502-680-2991.

HEROES holds support group meetings at 7 p.m. each Monday at 144 West Woodford St. The meetings are open to everyone, including families seeking information.