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Kentucky among top 3 states for spike in overdose deaths in 2020

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 7:09 PM EDT
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FLOYD COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) - Drug overdose deaths rose nationwide early on during the pandemic, with Kentucky in the top three states to see an increase in deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Kentucky had 1,956 overdose deaths from September 2020 compared with 1,304 deaths the previous year, the CDC said.

It’s a statistic those who work in the recovery community are trying to change.

“The longer we wait, the more people we will lose. We just can’t afford to lose many more people. We’re losing them every single day,” said David Gearheart, president and CEO of East Kentucky Rehabilitation Center.

Gearheart says those numbers have only increased during the last year, but the pandemic isn’t solely to blame as there are other issues at hand.

“It’s getting to the point that people who use drugs daily don’t know what they’re taking anymore,” Gearheart said. “Each drug can look the same or feel the same.”

It’s a situation that hits close to home for the Prestonsburg Police Department, as officers responded to an overdose Tuesday night.

“Thankfully, she recovered. She was somewhat able to give us some information as to where the purchase of the drugs took place, and we were able to conduct a search warrant on the business. We found methamphetamine and heroin that were laced with fentanyl,” said Capt. Randy Woods.

Officers say it’s a team effort to battle this epidemic that is sometimes hidden in plain sight. Woods and Geartheart both agree that a solution begins with education.

Gearheart, who was recently appointed by Gov. Andy Beshear to the Governor’s Board of Alcohol and Drug Counselors, hopes people understand eastern Kentucky has a voice in Frankfort.

“Those kids’ worlds have been flipped upside down. We know behavioral issues can lead to other issues such as drug usage. We need to concentrate on the people who, yes, are already in a bad situation. But also, start hitting hard on prevention in our youth,” Gearheart said.

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