Heroin a growing part of local drug scene

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By Calen McKinney


The number of drug overdose deaths and drug investigations appear to be on the rise in Taylor County.

The state's Office of Drug Control Policy recently released a report as to the number of deaths by drug overdose in Kentucky last year.

According to the report, over the past decade, the number of Kentucky residents who die from drug overdoses has climbed to more than 1,000 a year.

Locally, law enforcement officials report that they investigate the sale of drugs almost daily and have investigated exponentially more cases this year and last year that have involved heroin.

To help lower the number of drug overdoses, several laws have been enacted to raise awareness about drug abuse and offer programs to help.

House Bill 1, approved during the special General Assembly session in 2012, calls for the Office of Drug Control Policy to publish an annual report about the number and method of drug-related deaths in Kentucky's counties.

The report that analyzes 2012 data has revealed that, for the first time in a decade, the number of drug overdoses in the state declined last year. According to the report, there were 19 fewer overdose deaths last year than in 2011.

Last year, the report states, there were 1,004 drug overdose deaths in the state. Of those, 888 were found to have been unintentional, 59 were suicides and 57 still remain undetermined.

But while the number of overdoses decreased, overdose deaths attributed to heroin have increased by 550 percent.

In 2011, there were 22 overdose deaths in which heroin was the drug that caused the death. Last year, there were 143.

Alprazolam accounts for the drug most detected in overdose deaths. The report states that the drug was found in 44 percent of the 1,004 overdose deaths.

The report states that Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths last year, with 167.

The largest increase in overdose deaths from 2011 to last year was Campbell County. The largest decrease was in Floyd County.

The youngest person to die via drug overdose in the state last year was 16 and the oldest was 72.

Of the 1,004 people who died in Kentucky of a drug overdose, the average age of the deceased was 40. The majority of those who died, at 58 percent, were male.

In the report, there were seven drug overdose deaths in Taylor County in 2011. Last year, the number rose to 10.

Two of the 10 deaths last year in Taylor County, according to the report, were women ages 35 and 47. They died of a mixture of many drugs.

Campbellsville Police statistics show that officers are investigating more reports of drug use - and many more involving heroin - than in the past several years.

And, so far this year, they have responded to as many overdose reports as they did for all of last year.

According to statistics from by Mitch Bailey, staff assistant at Campbellsville Police, officers have, through July 31, begun 43 drug investigations this year. The total for all of last year was 51.

In 2011, officers investigated 74 cases. In 2010, the number was 54 and in 2009 it came in at 55.

The statistics involving heroin use in Campbellsville, according to Police Chief Tim Hazlette, are even more telling.

From 2009 to 2011, his officers investigated no drug cases involving heroin. Last year, they investigated four. So far this year, they have investigated seven. That equates to a nearly 200 percent increase over last year, with a bit less than half of the year yet to come.

Campbellsville Police officers responded to one drug overdose call in 2009. In 2010, they responded to eight. In 2011, the number dipped to three.

But last year, the number increased exponentially to seven. And so far this year, they have responded to seven calls.

Those statistics could be skewed a bit, Bailey said, because some reports don't state an overdose as the reason for the initial call to police.

Statistics from the Taylor County Sheriff's Office aren't gathered the same way as at Campbellsville Police, so information about deputies investigation wasn't available at press time.

However, Taylor County Sheriff Allen Newton said his deputies respond to reports of drug abuse in the community on a daily basis. And he said he believes the prevalence of drug overdoses in the community is on the rise.

"It seems they're up," he said. "And several I have heard about involved heroin."

Newton said drug abuse seems to go in cycles, from users preferring one drug for several years then moving on to another.

A few years ago, he said, Oxycodone was popular. Then it was methamphetamine. And now, he said, it's heroin.

"If they can't get one drug, they'll go to another," Newton said. "If one drug dries up, they'll be another one to take its place."

Ease of access vastly determines what drugs filter through communities, he said. Heroin, at one point, came to Taylor County from Lexington.

"We get reports every day," Newton said. "It's good to know what's going on to be able to combat it if the opportunity was to arise."

Newton said it can be difficult to catch drug users and dealers in the act. That's why confidential informants are used to help law enforcement, he said.

Hazlette said he, like Newton, agrees that drug overdoses seem to be on the rise.

"I think they're up everywhere," he said.

Hazlette said he believes House Bill 1, the bill geared toward making it more difficult to buy products to make methamphetamine, along with a more stringent use of the electronic KASPER system to track the purchase of over-the-counter drugs, have helped lessen residents’ dependency on prescription medications.

"So heroin has become a replacement," he said.

The recent prevalence of heroin, Hazlette said, has been reported as coming from Mexico. Several years ago, it reportedly came from Asia.

Hazlette said drug dealers cut heroin with different ingredients, which can send drug abusers to use more and more to get the same high they experienced the last time. He said drug users often don't understand how the drugs will impact them.

"They don't understand the makeup of it and it takes them out," he said.

And heroin has become cheap, Hazlette said, now costing less than some of the commonly abused prescription pills.

Hazlette said his officers investigate drug crimes seriously and hope to take drug dealers and users off the streets.

"We're being more proactive instead of reactive," he said.

"It takes a whole community. The only way we can eradicate this is if people today take it seriously. It's hard to protect people from themselves."

When a person dies of an overdose, Taylor County Coroner Terry Dabney is called to start investigating the death.

According to Dabney, his office investigated nine drug-related deaths in 2011, eight last year and four so far this year.

The most common drugs found to have contributed to those deaths are varieties of prescription narcotics.

Dabney said his data could be a bit skewed in that if a person overdoses but is taken to a hospital in another city and later dies, that death isn't included in his statistics.

Taylor County Drug Court Program Supervisor Jennifer Caulk said she was shocked by the data in the Office of Drug Control Policy's report. She said she expected to see overdose deaths increase.

Caulk said she believes recent legislation such as House Bill 463, which calls for the release of those charged with lesser drug offenses, could be contributing to fewer overdoses.

"But then, in turn, people are getting hooked on heroin because it's cheaper and easier to get," she said.

Caulk said she has seen more people addicted to heroin recently than in the past. And she said she expects that will be reflected in the Office of Drug Control Policy's report of this year's data.

"I'm going to be surprised if we don't see a huge jump," she said.

Caulk said she has seen the attitude toward drugs change in the Taylor County community. Many students, she said, during a recent survey, revealed that they don't believe marijuana is a drug.

To see the Office of Drug Control Policy's complete report, visit www.odcp.ky.gov.


Hospital Statistics

Taylor Regional Hospital keeps a log of each of its patients. According to TRH's statistics, as those from other agencies also show, drug overdoses could be on the rise in Taylor County.

According to information provided by Roxie Perkins, director of the hospital's emergency room, there were 30 female and 17 male patients who overdosed and received treatment at TRH last year. There were no deaths.

So far this year, there have been 20 females and nine males to overdose and receive treatment at TRH.

There were 47 overdoses for all of last year and 29 so far this year.

The average age for females who overdose and are treated at TRH is 37. The average age for males is 33.

According to Perkins, the overdoses so far this year have involved a number of different drugs. Seven have involved heroin and eight have involved cocaine.