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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a new federal law can begin to turn the tide of drug fatalities in Kentucky and nationwide. 

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, sets up a federal grant program to help combat heroin and prescription drug abuse.  The law seeks to improve prevention and treatment resources, and provide more first responders with anti-overdose drugs. 

Flanked by law enforcement in Bowling Green on Wednesday, McConnell said CARA will give local agencies the funds to help addicts while prosecuting drug dealers.

"For the people who are using, it's obviously a sickness and they must be cured," remarked McConnell.  "These guys have a lot of sympathy for those people, but they have no sympathy, I assume, for the people making it possible for this addiction to be fed."

While not every area of Kentucky has a heroin problem, most of the state is experiencing prescription drug abuse, as well as crystal meth and synthetic drugs.  Statewide, more than 1,200 people died last year from drug overdoses.

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A Bowling Green-based health group is expanding the number of naloxone training programs in southern Kentucky.

Naloxone is a medication that helps prevent overdose deaths from opioids such as heroin.

The Barren River District Health Department is planning trainings with Simpson County law enforcement and nurses who work in several local school districts, including Bowling Green Independent, and Barren, Butler, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe, and Simpson counties.

Chip Krause, a disease intervention specialist with the Barren River District Health Department, is leading the tsessions.

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The number of overdose deaths in Kentucky continues to rise and a new report shows it’s largely due to a powerful opioid drug that dealers are secretly mixing with heroin.

Over the past year, more drug dealers have been lacing heroin with fentanyl, an opioid that the Drug Enforcement Administration says is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin alone.

The results of this are evident in the state Office of Drug Control Policy’s latest report, which found that there were nearly 300 more fentanyl-related overdoses last year than in 2014.

Director Van Ingram said many overdoses happen because users don’t realize they aren’t taking pure heroin.

“Often people are buying what they think is heroin, which is heroin mixed with fentanyl or just fentanyl itself in a powdered form,” said Ingram.

More than 1,200 people died of drug overdoses in Kentucky last year.  Heroin accounted for 28 percent of those deaths, but state officials are most concerned about a prescription drug being mixed with heroin. 

Fentanyl is an opioid that is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin and can prove deadly at very low levels, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

A report issued Tuesday by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy underscores the dangers of Fentanyl, which accounted for 420 overdose deaths in 2015, or 34 percent of all overdose deaths in the state. 

Former heroin addict Chris Thomas of Bowling Green says Fentanyl has a tranquilizing effect.

"The effects of heroin, when you use it, you're going to be drowsy and a lot people almost pass out  immediately, and Fentanyl is going to increase that," Thomas told WKU Public Radio.  "It's a cheaper drug than heroin and you think in the end you're getting a better product, but it's going to be more likely to kill you."

Thomas says some heroin users could be consuming Fentanyl and not be aware of it.  Fentanyl accounted for 420 overdose deaths in 2015, or 34 percent of all overdose deaths in the state.  The drug’s high potency allows traffickers to reap more profits.  The legislature passed a bill last year to improve treatment and increase penalties for traffickers.

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Kentucky schools could provide another tool in the state’s fight against heroin. 

The pharmaceutical company AdaptPharma is donating the antidote Narcan, also known as Naloxone, to Kentucky schools. 

"We understand the crucial role schools can play to change the course of the opioid overdose epidemic by working with students and families," said Thomas Duddy, Executive Director of Communications for AdaptPharma.

The free kits will contain a nasal spray that can reverse heroin overdoses.  Van Ingram, Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, says the program could help reduce the number of young people killed by heroin.

"It's still largely focused on the adult population, but we are seeing younger and younger adults involved in the use of heroin," Ingram told WKU Public Radio.  "It's just another tool in the tool belt as public health, law enforcement, and a host of others trying to minimize the harm caused by this epidemic."

Each Kentucky school district can decide whether or not it wants to participate in the program, which will begin this fall.

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An increased number of Kentuckians are affected by heroin abuse, according to a Kentucky Health Issues Poll released this week.

The poll asked adult Kentucky residents about the influence of drug misuse on their family members and friends.

It found 13 percent of Kentucky adults have a family member or friend who’s experienced issues because of using heroin. In 2013, only 9 percent of respondents answered yes to the same question.

The poll was produced by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health, formerly the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.

In 2012, state lawmakers passed legislation to address so-called pill mills. Last year, state officials said the “pill-mill bill” had been effective in reducing prescription drug abuse.

Louisville Metro Public Health can provide new syringes to people regardless of whether used syringes are exchanged, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Louisville’s health department is operating what’s called a needs-based negotiation model, which provides multiple clean syringes regardless of whether participants bring in dirty ones.

The opinion issued Monday was requested by Senate President Robert Stivers,  a Republican from Manchester.

Another southern Indiana county might declare a state of emergency over increasing rates of HIV and hepatitis C.

Clark County, which is just across the Ohio River from Louisville, is considering the move in light of the recent outbreak in neighboring Scott County.

Scott County, Indiana, has received national attention recently following a spike in HIV and hep-C, blamed on the use of dirty needles used by addicts who are injecting heroin and the painkiller opana.

The Courier-Journal reports Clark County public health officer Kevin Burke is considering declaring a public emergency after it was discovered that a current HIV case in his county was linked to the Scott County outbreak. A public emergency would allow the creation of a needle exchange program, something proponents say is necessary to slow the spread of disease and offer treatment options to addicts.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden says the 4,200 person town of Austin, in Scott County, has a higher per-capita rate of HIV infection than any country in sub-saharan Africa.

Indiana state health officials say they’re working to transfer more responsibility to local officials dealing with the response to the HIV outbreak in the southeastern part of the state. Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams and Deputy State Health Commissioner Jennifer Walthall  outlined the transition and long-term sustainability efforts in a news conference Wednesday.

Adams said he wants to make it clear that the Indiana health department is not leaving Scott County, where 170 people have been newly-diagnosed with HIV since December.

“This is a transition to more local control, more local empowerment. But the state will remain partners with Scott County. We’ll continue to be involved with and go down to Scott County for the foreseeable future,” he said.

There are now 170 confirmed HIV cases related to the outbreak. Adam said that 86 percent of those with HIV also have Hepatitis C.

A drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose will soon be available without a prescription in Kentucky.

The state Board of Pharmacy’s emergency regulation went into effect last week to allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone, a drug that’s already used in hospital emergency rooms and by law enforcement agencies.

Van Ingram, head of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, says the hope is to save people who can then be rehabilitated.

“Substance abuse treatment is the end-goal for all individuals who are addicted, but we can’t get them to substance abuse treatment if they aren’t alive.”

Naloxone can be administered by a needle injection, through an auto-injector, and through a intranasal device.

A bill passed this year by state lawmakers allows pharmacists to establish guidelines on how to prescribe the drug.

Heroin Overdose Deaths are Down in Three Kentucky Counties

May 11, 2015

New statistics indicate heroin-related overdose deaths declined in 2014 in three northern Kentucky counties hard hit by the drug epidemic.

Citing the latest statistics from the Kentucky Medical Examiner's office, The Kentucky Enquirer reports that Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties had a combined 64 heroin-related overdose deaths in 2014, down from 72 in 2013.

Leaders of the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Task Force say the drop shows community efforts are beginning to yield results.

Dr. Tracey Corey, Kentucky's chief medical examiner, released to The Enquirer the latest count of overdose deaths statewide that included heroin in the bloodstream. Her analyst noted that the medical examiner does not get all heroin-related overdose deaths cases, however.

The medical examiner had 233 such deaths in 2014, up from 230 in 2013.

The Barren River District Health Department in Bowling Green estimates they're a little over a month away from setting up their local needle exchange program for intravenous drug users. One of the key provisions in the high profile heroin bill passed by the General Assembly during their session earlier this year allowed local municipalities the option of setting up the exchanges.

Disease intervention specialist Chip Krause estimates their "Harm Reduction and Syringe Access Program" will be operational by May 1st.

The program is designed to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C from spreading among drug users who use dirty needles. Krause says a lot of people in the community have the wrong idea about it, thinking the health department is just helping addicts with their habits, but that's not the case, "A lot of people are pretty upset that these kinds of things do happen," he said, "but overall it's a good thing for the community because it prevents disease from spreading to some of the population that could be at risk."

Krause says even with a large college like WKU in town, they don't really see much heroin use but he says it is in the area and has to be dealt with. "You hate to say it's a big problem, but any time you have drug use with the possibility of spread of disease it is a problem and something we need to address."

A drug roundup in Pulaski County is targeting lower-level dealers ahead of future efforts against higher-level offenders.

Forty-seven drug-related indictments with nearly 70 felony charges have been handed down this week by a local grand jury. Pulaski County Sheriff’s Deputy Karl Clinard says this week’s efforts by federal, state, county, and city law enforcement groups have been aimed at those selling prescription pills and methamphetamine, with a growing number of heroin dealers also targeted.

“The commonwealth of Kentucky is suffering a considerable amount of impact from heroin, and we’re trying to work on that. That’s a higher-level drug that we’re trying to incorporate into our round ups.”

Clinard says that information gained from this week’s arrests will be used to target higher-level drug traffickers in the Pulaski County region.

This week's roundup was a combined effort of the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office, the Lake Cumberland Area Task Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Kentucky State Police, Kentucky State Police Drug Enforcement/Special Investigations East, Kentucky Office of the Attorney General,  Somerset Police Department,  Burnside Police Department,  Science Hill Police Department, Ferguson Police Department and Eubank Police Department.

Indiana health officials say more than 100 people have tested positive for HIV in an outbreak of the virus among intravenous drug users in southeastern Indiana.

The state’s Joint Information Center said Friday that as of Thursday there had been 95 confirmed HIV cases and 11 preliminary positive cases tied to the outbreak.

All of the HIV cases have been linked to needle-sharing among intravenous drug users.

Scott County — about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky — is the epicenter of Indiana’s largest-ever HIV outbreak.

Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency in the county on March 26 that allowed the creation of a limited needle-exchange program that aims to stem the spread of the virus.

The nation's drug czar was in Kentucky Thursday to tout needle-exchange programs as a way to reduce the spread of disease and to steer heroin users into treatment.

Michael Botticelli, the director of National Drug Control Policy, visited northern Kentucky, which has been hard hit by heroin abuse addiction. He was invited to Kentucky by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

During his speech, Botticelli said needle-exchange programs are a way to reduce the spread of hepatitis and HIV by discouraging use of dirty needles by multiple people.

He said the programs reduce the risk that law enforcement officers will be infected by accidental needle sticks. Kentucky lawmakers last month passed sweeping anti-heroin legislation.

One component allows local governments to set up needle-exchange programs where addicts can swap dirty needles for clean ones.

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