Kentucky News

KET panel applauded Kentucky’s 5% drop in overdose deaths in 2022, but cited new challenges and remaining difficulties

By Melissa Patrick | Kentucky Health News

     A panel of survivors, drug-recovery experts and providers lauded Kentucky’s 5 percent reduction in drug-overdose deaths between 2021 and 2022 on a Kentucky Educational Television program, “Disrupting Addiction: A KET Forum,” but said there is still more work to do. 

     Host Renee Shaw opened the program by sharing data from the state’s latest annual Overdose Fatality Report, It shows 2,135 Kentucky residents died from overdoses in 2022, 5% less than in 2021. Fentanyl was identified in more than 1,500 of the deaths, 72% of them. By age group, people 35 to 44 had the most overdoses.  

    Van Ingram, executive director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy, said Kentucky was one of only eight states that reported decreases of 100 or more overdose deaths in 2022, compared to 2021. “That’s over 100 families that are impacted,” he said. “But still, we’re losing six Kentuckians every day to preventable disease, preventable death.” 

     Ingram said another challenge is that in addition to fentanyl, Xylazine, a non-opioid animal tranquilizer that has been approved for veterinary use, is being added to the drug supply.

     “It’s really going to cause us to redouble our efforts and look for new ways,” he said. “There are Xylazine test strips, we’ll be looking at those. It’s just unbelievable that if fentanyl wasn’t deadly enough, now we have to add something else to it.” 

Asked why the top five counties with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in 2022 (Bath, Lee, Floyd, Estill and Knott) were all in Eastern Kentucky, Ingram reminded Shaw that Appalachia was ground-zero for the opioid epidemic.

     “It still remains one of the hardest hit areas in the country,” he said. “There’s just not the resources a lot of times in those communities that others have, and that makes things more difficult.” 

     Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, chair of the House Health Services Committee, said she attributed the 5% drop in 

overdose deaths to strong policies that have been passed in the last nine years, a changing conversation around addiction that makes it easier to pass strong policies, and improving resources. However, noting the more than 2,000 overdose deaths in 2022, she added, “We still have a long way to go.”