Health Official: Regional Overdose Death Rates Up, But Flattening

Jul 27, 2018

Health officials in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia say the number of overdose deaths continued to rise in 2017. The Ohio Valley ReSource's Aaron Payne reports that one public health official says, however, there is cause for optimism.

Preliminary data from around the Ohio Valley show overdose fatalities continued to climb last year. A new report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy says around 1,500 died from drug overdoses last year, up 11.5 percent from 2016.

Preliminary data from Ohio indicate fatal overdoses jumped almost 20 percent last year. And the Bureau of Public Health in West Virginia reports an estimated 32 percent increase in 2017.

Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin, is believed to be the driving cause of the increase.

West Virginia’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta says the total number of fatal overdoses so far in 2018 indicate a higher toll than last year.

But the news is not entirely bleak. Gupta says the projected rate of increase appears to be leveling off.

“They went from 2016-17 up about 32 percent," Gupta said. "And from 2017-2018 about 6 percent. So we’re certainly seeing a flattening of the curve. Up, but they’re not as up they were from 2016 to 2017.”

He anticipates fewer overdoses in future months due to the evidence-based approaches to the opioid epidemic across the region.

The Ohio Valley ReSource is made possible with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.