SPECIAL REPORT: Fighting opioids in Kentucky

Published: Dec. 21, 2017 at 3:29 PM CST
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The national war on opioids, targeted by lawmakers and spotlighted in parts of Kentucky, is the result of over 60,000 overdose deaths in a one year span.

The Center for Disease Control shows in a new study that the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths increased from 6.1 per 100,000 standard population in 1999 to 19.8 in 2016.

Approximately 2/3 of those deaths were opioid-related. Overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States.

Opioids are no new problem to the United States, nor to South Central Kentucky.

Legislation in recent years has perhaps played a role in changing the course of the opioid epidemic, but that path may not be down the road lawmakers expected.

"Unfortunately there were some people in the medical community that were prescribing them improperly," said Dr. Paul Maglinger of Interventional Pain Specialists (IPS). "The state decided to step in and they they really issued some landmark legislation in 2011 called House Bill 1."

Dr. Maglinger is the clinical director at IPS and and anesthesiologist at The Medical Center in Bowling Green.

"[House Bill 1] really gave some guidance to the local medical community on how to properly prescribe," Maglinger continued.

Tommy Loving, Director of the Warren County Drug Task Force, believes the problem with prescription opiates began at a corporate level.

"I think the root of all evil that started this opiate problem in this country were the pharmaceutical companies that misled physicians," he said.

As lawmakers took aim at doctors illegally prescribing opioids/opiates for financial gain, and small town municipalities began targeting pharmaceutical companies, the problem with prescription opioids started to go away, only to be followed by a much more dangerous trend.

"The numbers of controlled substance prescriptions have have declined in the state," explained Dr. Maglinger.

"As [prescription opioids] decrease, the heroin is coming in from Mexico to help fill that gap," added Tommy Loving.

"It had kind of a paradoxical effect," Maglinger continues. "Unfortunately what we've seen, is an increase in the number of opiate-related deaths and a lot of that is due to stronger illicit opiates, kind of proliferating in the state now, things like heroin and fentanyl.

Tommy Loving went on to explain his belief that Mexican drug cartels realized back in 2010, 2011, and 2012, what an opiate-addicted country the United States was, so they figured out there's a new product that can make a lot of money on.

Dr. Paul Maglinger says it's possible as legislation on opioid prescriptions got tighter, people turned to drugs like heroin.

"I think a lot of the people here who are using prescription opiates turn to illicit medications which are which are even stronger and can be more deadly," he said.

More recently than House Bill 1, state legislature has taken even more of an aim at the opiod crisis.

"What most recently the Kentucky legislature has done," explained Maglinger, "is suggested that they only prescribe basically a three-day supply. If a patient had a major surgery or something that, that would warrant medication for a long period, you just need to do some special documentation and to prescribe as little as really necessary to treat the patient's pain."

Tommy Loving says heroin and other illicit opioids haven't inundated Central Kentucky as of now, but if it follows similar trends, it very well may be be making its way.

"If we get hit with heroin it's going to be really bad," he said. "We're very mindful of that and we're working every day to, if we get someone here trafficking in heroin, identify that quickly so that we can take them out. I'm just hopeful that we can you know continue to buck this trend."

The Justice & Public Safety Cabinet in Kentucky reports 1,404 overdose deaths in Kentucky.

Autopsied and toxicology reports from coroners show that approximately 34 percent of overdose deaths involved the use of heroin in 2016, up from 28 percent in 2015.

Fentanyl, either combined with heroin or alone, was involved in 623 overdose deaths. That accounts for 47 percent of all deaths, up from 34 percent in 2015.