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For second year in a row, Kentucky overdose deaths decrease

Overdose deaths in Kentucky decreased in 2023 for the second year in a row, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Thursday as he released the Drug Overdose Fatality Report.

In 2022, 2,135 Kentuckians died from an overdose, marking the first decline since 2018. Ninety percent of those deaths were from opioids and fentanyl.

In 2023, the number of fatal overdoses was down to 1,984. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, accounted for 1,570 of those — about 79% of the 2023 deaths. The 35-44 age group was most at risk, the report shows. Methamphetamine accounted for 55% of 2023’s overdose deaths.

Despite the overall decrease, the number of Black Kentuckians who died from a drug overdose increased from 259 in 2022 to 264 in 2023.

“We recognize that even while we celebrate progress, there’s a lot of heartbreak and pain because of this epidemic that continues,” Beshear said.

Van Ingram, the executive director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said distribution of Narcan, which can reverse opioid overdoses, in the state is key. Local health departments, recovery community centers and regional prevention centers provide free Narcan across the state. Find free Narcan near you here. In 2023, 160,000 doses of Narcan were distributed in Kentucky.

“Fentanyl is what’s driving this crisis,” Ingram said. “If we can ever get a handle on that, I think the success we can have is unbelievable.”

In 2023, the legislature decriminalized fentanyl test strips. Check with your local health department to obtain the test strips, which can easily detect the presence of fentanyl in pills and other drugs within moments.

The fatality report shows the highest rates of fatal drug overdoses were Estill, Lee, Breathitt, Powell and Floyd counties. Fentanyl and meth potency was the highest in Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Madison and Pike counties.

This story was originally published by the Kentucky Lantern.

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist and Kentuckian. She has covered everything from crime to higher education. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since.
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