drugs

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Kentucky educators will be trained this week on how to administer a heroin antidote.  The drug Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is being made available to high schools who voluntarily choose to participate. 

Bowling Green Superintendent Gary Fields says he still hasn’t decided if his district will stock Narcan, which can also reverse the effects of prescription drug overdoses.

"I think anytime we ask lay people who aren't health care professionals to administer medicine, that's always a scary moment, but if we feel like it's going to possibly save the life of a student down the road, then I think we're going to have to move in that direction," Fields told WKU Public Radio.

The south central Kentucky region has not seen the rise in heroin experienced by Lexington, Louisville, and northern Kentucky.

Opioid High: Students Face A Different Kind of Test

Sep 11, 2016
Aaron Payne | Ohio Valley ReSource

It’s not just about notebooks and pencil boxes anymore: the opioid epidemic means back-to-school supplies now include things like emergency overdose treatments and drug prevention plans.

Many schools in the Ohio Valley region are using random drug testing despite doubts from addiction treatment experts about whether the tests really work to deter abuse.

A Tragedy, Then Testing

A new testing program takes effect this year in Belpre, Ohio, where students have witnessed the consequences of opioid abuse first hand.

On a recent Friday night, the Belpre High School football team made the trip to face Trimble in the second week of high school football.

Among the team leaders are Logan Racy and Aric Ross, who are both in their senior seasons.

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A powerful drug that's normally used to tranquilize elephants is being blamed for a record spike in drug overdoses in the Midwest. Officials in Ohio have declared a public health emergency and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says communities everywhere should be on alert for carfentanil.

The synthetic opioid is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, the prescription painkiller that led to the death earlier this year of the pop star Prince. Fentanyl itself can be up to 50 times more deadly than heroin.

In the past few years, traffickers in illegal drugs increasingly have substituted fentanyl for heroin and other opioids. Now carfentanil is being sold on American streets, either mixed with heroin or pressed into pills that look like prescription drugs. Many users don't realize that they're buying carfentanil. And that has deadly consequences.

"Instead of having four or five overdoses in a day, you're having these 20, 30, 40, maybe even 50 overdoses in a day," says Tom Synan, who directs the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition Task Force in Southwest Ohio. He's also the police chief in Newtown, Ohio.

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Elizabeth Boccieri has been using meth and oxycontin in the past few days, ever since she heard about extra-strength laced heroin that’s been making its way south from Ohio to Louisville.

Law enforcement officials are worried that heroin laced with poison finally reached Louisville this week. Twenty-eight people have been hospitalized with suspected heroin overdoses in Louisville in the past three days, according to local hospitals. One died on Wednesday.

And while it will take weeks to for officials to determine whether the heroin is laced through toxicology testing, it’s what’s on virtually everyone’s mind who encounters the drug in some way.

“My mom is, like, begging me to not use heroin,” the 29-year-old Boccieri said. “There’s bad stuff going around. And so I’m trying to stay away from it.”

Two weeks ago, Boccieri ended her fifth stint in jail this year for heroin-related charges, she said. For 49 days, she detoxed from heroin and other drugs. But after doing hard drugs for almost half of her 29 years, the habit has become her life. She is back to living on friends couches and doing drugs.

24 Heroin Overdoses Reported in One Day in Louisville

Aug 31, 2016
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Public health officials in Louisville are warning of a spike in heroin overdoses in the city.

According to WDRB-TV, officials at Norton Hospital say there were at least 24 confirmed overdose cases in Louisville on Tuesday.

Dr. Robert Couch, an emergency physician at Norton, said at a news conference that he saw eight overdose patients within five hours.

He calls it a "public health emergency," saying the heroin on the street seems to be unusually potent. He says patients taking what would usually be a small amount are losing consciousness.

Couch says larger doses of naloxone, a widely available overdose antidote that many first responders carry, are needed to reverse the drug's effect.

The announcement comes after recent overdose spikes in communities in the neighboring states of Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia.

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Indiana’s health commissioner has declared a public health emergency in Southern Indiana’s Clark County that allows local officials to start a needle exchange to curb the spread of hepatitis C and HIV.

Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams declared the emergency Monday, making the county the sixth in Indiana to win permission for a needle-exchange following an HIV outbreak in Southern Indiana linked to intravenous drug use. The five others are Fayette, Madison, Monroe, Scott and Wayne counties.

Clark County spent eight months trying to work out problems with its initial needle-exchange application. The county submitted a second application after ending talks with the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation to pay for the program.

County health Commissioner Kevin Burke said state health officials didn’t support how that foundation would have funded the program.

Tommy Farmer/Tennessee Bureau of Investigation/AP

Federal data suggest illegally manufactured fentanyl, a drug that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, is behind an increase in overdose deaths.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that there was a 426 percent increase in seized drug products that tested positive for fentanyl from 2013 to 2014. And separate data show the number of deaths involving synthetic opioids, a class that includes fentanyl, rose 79 percent during that same period. Among 27 U.S. states analyzed, there was a strong correlation between increases in synthetic opioid deaths and in seized fentanyl products, according to data published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

That suggests, the authors say, that fentanyl is driving the spike in overdoses. (Deaths attributed specifically to fentanyl aren't reported in national data.)

Fentanyl is available by prescription to treat severe pain. But the fentanyl that's currently on the streets — usually mixed into heroin and often without the user's knowledge — isn't from diverted pharmaceutical products. Instead it's being illicitly manufactured, according to the government.

Bowling Green and Warren County are joining a growing list of communities establishing needle exchange programs. 

In 2015, the Kentucky General Assembly approved a measure allowing local governments to set up the exchanges in response to the state’s heroin epidemic.  The aim is to prevent the spread of disease such as HIV and Hepatitis. 

The Barren River District Health Department serves an eight-county region including Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe, Simpson, and Warren Counties.  From January 2014 to April of this year, the region saw more than 600 cases of Hepatitis-C. 

Warren County's needle exchange, which begins Thursday, will allow any drug user to come to the health department and anonymously swap dirty needles for clean ones. 

In this interview, Lisa Autry spoke with Dennis Chaney, director of the Barren River District Health Department.

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Kentucky’s leaders are grappling with how to get more of the state’s residents into the labor force. 

In 2015, the commonwealth ranked 46th in the nation for its workforce participation rate, according to Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner.  The rate is determined by the number of adults between the ages of 21 and 65 who are able to work.

Kentucky Labor Secretary Derrick Ramsey says employers are frustrated that too many prospective workers can’t pass drug tests.

"Of the worst 220 counties in America, 54 of those counties are here in the state of Kentucky, where the drug scourge and epidemic is just sucking the life out of us, if you would," Ramsey told WKU Public Radio.

Kentucky has about 130,000 able-bodied residents who choose not to work.

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Once people realized that opioid drugs could cause addiction and deadly overdoses, they tried to use newer forms of opioids to treat the addiction to its parent. Morphine, about 10 times the strength of opium, was used to curb opium cravings in the early 19th century. Codeine, too, was touted as a nonaddictive drug for pain relief, as was heroin.

Those attempts were doomed to failure because all opioid drugs interact with the brain in the same way. They dock to a specific neural receptor, the mu-opioid receptor, which controls the effects of pleasure, pain relief and need.

Now scientists are trying to create opioid painkillers that give relief from pain without triggering the euphoria, dependence and life-threatening respiratory suppression that causes deadly overdoses.

51fifty at the English language Wikipedia

For those working daily to treat addiction tied to the opioid epidemic in the Ohio Valley, resources have been limited. Beginning this week doctors will have a little more to work with.

The federal government will allow doctors to treat more patients with buprenorphine, a medication that can help ease people away from addiction.

While the science supports this treatment, some remain skeptical. Visits to three treatment centers in the region show the different approaches people in the recovery community are taking. In the fight against the addiction crisis, it appears there is no single silver bullet.

“Hi, James”

In a Louisville halfway house for inmates and parolees, a group of men gathered to offer support to one another as they work through addiction in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

Jake Harper/Side Effects Public Media

Twice a day, Angela and Nate Turner of Greenwood, Ind., put tiny strips that look like tinted tape under their tongues.

"They taste disgusting," Angela says.

But the taste is worth it to her. The dissolvable strips are actually a drug called Suboxone, which helps control an opioid user's cravings for the drug. The married couple both got addicted to prescription painkillers following injuries several years ago, and they decided to go into recovery this year. With Suboxone, they don't have to worry about how they'll get drugs, or how sick they'll feel if they don't.

"You can function, but you're not high," Angela says. "It's like a miracle drug. It really is."

A body of evidence now shows that medications such as Suboxone are effective in putting the brakes on opioid use disorder, when used in conjunction with counseling. For Angela, the treatment means she can take care of their 3-year-old, and Nate can keep a job.

But because of some companies' insurance rules, getting started on Suboxone — and staying on it — can be difficult.

Kentucky LRC

Kentucky is undergoing rapid changes in how it treats drug offenders.

A growing number of communities are offering needle exchange programs for IV drug users. There’s a greater availability of naloxone, a drug which counters the effects of an opioid overdose. The state legislature passed a bill this year offering more treatment options for heroin addicts.

Someone with an up-close view of these recent changes is John Tilley, a former Kentucky House member from Hopkinsville who now serves as Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

Tilley says there’s been a growing recognition from both conservatives and liberals that simply throwing drug addicts in jail doesn’t cure the problem.

Grayson County Sheriff's Office

Sheriff’s deputies in Grayson County have discovered a crop of marijuana planted between rows of corn and they’ve sent a message to the unknown grower on Twitter.

The message is #WeGotYoWeed.

WFIE TV reports deputies found 254 marijuana plants in a cornfield a few hundred feet off Highway 54. The estimated value of the marijuana is $600,000.

The deputies left a handwritten note in the field that says, “Thanks for the weed. If you’d like to claim it, you can come by the office.”

The Grayson County Sheriff's Office said an anonymous tip led deputies to the field. So far, no arrests have been made.

Many More People Seek Medical Help For Opioid Abuse

Aug 1, 2016
John Moore/Getty Images

Health care claims for people with opioid dependence diagnoses rose more than 3,000 percent between 2007 and 2014, according to an analysis of insurance records.

The findings illustrate that the opioid problem is "in the general mainstream," says Robin Gelburd, president of Fair Health, a nonprofit that analyzes health care costs and conducted the study.

The researchers used de-identified claims data from insurers representing 150 million patients who either have insurance through work or buy coverage on their own. They looked for diagnosis codes related to opioid dependency and abuse, adverse effects of heroin use or problems caused by the misuse or abuse of other types of opiates, including prescription drugs.

They found that health care costs related to opioid dependence increased most sharply since 2011, a period marked by increased attention to the problem and a growing pressure on physicians to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions.

Younger patients ages 19 to 35 were most likely to be diagnosed as opioid dependent. Dependence is defined by symptoms such as increased tolerance, withdrawal or unsuccessful attempts to quit.

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