Kentucky Battles Heroin Overdose Epidemic with Naloxone

By Paul Gaita 08/24/15

Despite reluctance from government and health officials, Kentucky has taken steps to combat their growing opioid crisis.

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For more than a decade, opioid drugs have devastated the population of the state of Kentucky. Reports from the Kentucky Medical Examiners Office and Office of Vital Statistics, among others, demonstrate the high number of state residents dying from overdoses of morphine, heroin, and prescription drugs, with fatalities increasing to 1,087 in 2014. 

The northern region of the state appeared to take the brunt of the opioid crisis, with 204 deaths in Jefferson County alone in 2014. A possible solution, in the form of the opioid antagonist drug, naloxone, was being used in other parts of the country during this period, but officials in both the state government and healthcare community were reluctant to embrace its lifesaving opportunities.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Karyn Hascal, president of The Healing Place, the state’s most well known 12-step treatment center, stated that naloxone should not be made widely available to addicts. “For our clients, I think it’s a mixed message, and I think it’s a dangerous message,” she said. “If fear of dying is the only thing that gets them into treatment, I don’t want to take that away."

However, new legislation passed in March of 2015 may help to stem the tide of drug overdoses in Kentucky. The state now allows for more individuals to carry naloxone, and addicts who survive an overdose can no longer be charged with a crime after being revived. They can also purchase the drug at a pharmacy without a prescription, although a written agreement from an area doctor must be provided.

Approximately 30 pharmacists have received training on the use of naloxone and its use under the new law, though only two have struck agreements with doctors on dispensing the drug without a prescription at their respective pharmacies. Trish Freeman, president-elect of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association, is hopeful that more pharmacists will embrace the plan. “It’s clear why it’s important—we have people dying,” she said.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.