heroin

Ryland Barton

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned high school students about the dangers of heroin and opioid abuse at an assembly in Richmond on Tuesday.

The visit was part of an Obama administration initiative to educate people about heroin and prescription painkiller abuse.

Lynch is the nation’s top law enforcement official, but she said the heroin and opioid problem isn’t just a law enforcement crisis, it’s a moral one.

“…A test of whether we here in the United States can protect our children, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens from the scourge of addiction,” Lynch said.

Heroin overdoses have surged recently in Kentucky — reports from Northern Kentucky, Louisville, Lexington and smaller cities like Mt. Sterling have linked the spike to doses of heroin laced with fentanyl, a potent pain killer.

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Drug abuse is a health crisis in Kentucky, and the state's top health professional says it will get a lot worse over the holiday weekend.

Kentucky Health Commissioner Dr. Hiram Polk says an Emergency Health Alert has gone out to first responders, hospitals and addiction counselors to mobilize for a rash of overdose cases.

In the Midwest lately, including Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, heroin on the streets is being cut and sold with Fentanyl.   

Fentanyl is the deadly drug that killed rock legend Prince, and is far more potent than heroin.

Hospitals and EMS are stocking up on the overdose-reversal drug naloxone. 

In just two days in Louisville, there were 28 overdoses, and Dr. Polk predicts much more over the weekend.

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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.

Jefferson County's top attorney is fighting back against the heroin epidemic.

County Attorney Mike O'Connell, who lost his son Matt to an overdose in 2014, called the drug a "plague on this country" in an impassioned address to the Kentucky International Overdose Awareness Rally.

He told those at the rally that was scheduled prior to Tuesday night's mass overdoses that those who distribute the drugs treat it like a business and they need to be shut down.

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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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.

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