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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Kentucky: 2016 Drug Overdose Fatality Surveillance System Report Yields Data, Recommendations

The Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, a bona fide agent for the Kentucky Department for Public Health, in collaboration with the Kentucky Office of the State Medical Examiner and county coroner offices, has released the 2016 Kentucky Drug Overdose Fatality Surveillance System (DOFSS) report.

The findings of the 2016 report illustrate the continued complexity of the drug overdose epidemic in Kentucky. An increase in the total number of drug overdose deaths involving prescription and illicit drugs highlights the continued need for enhanced and targeted substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery programs and supporting policies. Alongside the data, the report offers evidence-based proposals to reduce the number of drug overdose fatalities in Kentucky.

Proposals contained in the 2016 DOFSS report include:

Significantly, the report also notes that while more than one-half of drug overdose decedents in Kentucky had a reported history of substance use, only 7 percent had a reported history of substance use disorder treatment. To that point, the DOFSS report recommends that enhanced treatment capacity, program duration, and financial accessibility is essential to increase the number of individuals who are admitted to and retained in substance use disorder treatment programs.

Although 90 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016 involved opioids, the investigators note that treatment for methamphetamine and benzodiazepine use disorders is needed along with concurrent treatment for certain medical conditions — such as heart disease and mental health disorders. Fourteen percent of all drug overdose decedents had significant heart conditions that were found to contribute to the cause of death; nine percent of decedents were previously diagnosed with depression and five percent with anxiety, yet only one percent had ever been treated for mental health conditions.

An increase in the number of “bridge clinics” located in emergency department settings that provide medication-assisted treatment may help to increase timely substance use disorder treatment, as well as treatment availability for extended durations to reduce substance use relapse — 11 percent of all drug overdose decedents had suffered a substance use relapse at some point prior to the fatal overdose. The website www.FindHelpNowKY.org was developed by KIPRC as the bona fide agent for the Kentucky Department for Public Health, for use as a resource by healthcare professionals and the general public. The site provides near real-time availability of substance use disorder treatment to link individuals to help when they are at a critical stage of readiness. A resource section with information on questions related to substance use disorders and treatment is also available on www.FindHelpNowKY.org.

The DOFSS report concludes that an increased number of recovery-ready communities are needed to enhance full integration of institutionalized individuals back into local communities. Three percent of all drug overdose decedents in the data were recently released from residential substance use disorder treatment; two percent were under current treatment; three percent of all drug overdose decedents were recently released from incarceration; and three  percent were recently seen in an emergency department or released from a hospital stay.

“Our sympathies are extended to the family, friends, and colleagues of those individuals who died from drug overdoses. Our hope is that enhanced, targeted, and evidence-based — and evidence-informed — state and local substance use disorder programs and policies that are community-centered, healthcare-centered, and workplace-centered, and provide recovery ready communities, will hasten reduction of the drug epidemic in Kentucky,” said Dr. Terry Bunn, KIPRC Director. Dr. Bunn contributed to the report alongside Ms. Sarah L. Hargrove, Mr. Patrick J. Ward, and Ms. Lane G. Mitchell, data coordinator.

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The Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC), a partnership between the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, combines academic investigation with practical public health initiatives to decrease the burden of injury in the Commonwealth by increasing knowledge and awareness of injury, as well as imparting skills and strategies to make Kentucky a safer place to call home.

The University of Kentucky College of Public Health is a catalyst of positive change for population health, with a mission to develop health champions, conduct multidisciplinary and applied research, and collaborate with partners to improve health in Kentucky and beyond.