GLASGOW – Deaths due to drug overdoses are decreasing across the nation, state and in Barren County.
Van Ingram, executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, reported in his address to the Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services panel that drug overdose deaths decreased by 15 percent in 2018, which is 233 fewer people dying, according to an article published by the Kentucky's Legislative Resource Commission.
Ingram also said in the article that the decrease followed years of steady increases that were driven mostly by a rise in opioid use, heroin and fentanyl. Nationwide there was a decrease of just under 5 percent of deaths due to drug overdoses.
Barren County Coroner Tim Gibson recently went through his records, looking at both the number of deaths caused by drug overdoses for the past three years, as well as the type of drug that caused the overdose.
“I think we are down a little in drug overdoses,” Gibson said.
The most common drug found to be associated with drug overdoses in Barren County is methamphetamine.
Since January, there have been four drug-related overdose deaths.
Methamphetamine use was found to be the cause of two of those deaths. The other two were due to the use of diphenhydramine or benadryl.
In 2018, there were six drug-related overdose deaths. Two of which involved methamphetamine. Of those two one was strictly methamphetamine and the other was due to a car crash believed to be associated to methamphetamine intoxication.
Other substances relating to the drug overdoses in 2018 were alcohol, hydrocodone and antifreeze, specifically. The others were due to multi-drug intoxication.
Seven people died from a drug overdose in the county in 2017. Three were due to methamphetamine use, while three were due to multi-drug intoxication and one was due to diphenhydramine.
In 2016, there were two heroine related deaths with both occurring in September.
“We kind of suspect that they may have come from the same batch out of Louisville,” Gibson said. “I have kind of learned through some classroom stuff that if a dealer has someone to die because of their stuff, it's like a feather in their hat. Other people will say, 'Oh, man, he's got the best stuff because he had two people to die from that stuff, so it's really good.'”
According to Kentucky Substance Use Research and Enforcement or K-SURE, the five major drug overdose related substances from Jan. 1, 2017 to March 1 were: heroin, opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl.
The percentage of drug-related overdoses involving heroin, opioids, cocaine and fentanyl has decreased for that time period. The only one that increased was methamphetamine, which it increased by 11.1 percent.
That doesn't necessarily mean there is a decrease in the use of methamphetamine.
Ron Lafferty, executive director of the Barren River Drug Task Force, said the use of methamphetamine comes and goes in waves.
“You take a few dealers out and it goes down. Like everything else, a new one will step up. They will find their connections. They will start bringing in more,” he said. “Right now, we're starting to see an uptick in it.”
Detectives with the drug task force are seeing more crystal methamphetamine than other forms of the drug.
“A few years ago it used to be the bottle dope – the shake and bakes,” Lafferty said. “The purity of it was not as high. In making bottle dope, the purity might be between 50 to 70 percent pure. The stuff that is coming in from Mexico, the purity level of it is 90 to 95 percent.”
Because of the purity level, the drug is stronger and could be a contributing factor to deaths related to drug overdose involving methamphetamine, he said.
“You've got all the chemicals in stuff in what we call the bottle dope, these shake and bake labs,” Lafferty said. “Where in the super labs where the crystal meth is made, usually in Mexico, it's a lot more elaborate system and they can make it a lot more pure with the process they go through, where here it would be hard to hide a lab that big. You would have to have a whole lot of pseudoephedrine that you cannot get particularly in Kentucky. Here you are only allowed 24 grams a year. There they get it by the ton, so they can make a whole big system out of it.”
Methamphetamine is a popular drug of choice because it is inexpensive.
“It is very cheap right now. Just a few years ago they were paying $100 a gram for it. Now they're paying $300 an ounce, so the price has just bottomed out because of the cartel has flooded the United States with it, especially in the rural areas,” Lafferty said. “In the rural areas, it seems like meth is the chosen drug whereas in the city areas heroine seems to be the preferential drug.”
The drug task force focuses on arresting drug dealers more so than drug users. The drug task force's arrests are actually down, but its seizures are up.
“We are finally getting to get the bigger people now. At one time it seemed like we were flooded with the small times, the users. We have tried to regain our focus to the bigger people. You can't arrest your way out of this epidemic. There's just now way to do that, so we have, and of course I've talked to a lot of chiefs and sheriffs and they understand completely, that we have to focus more toward the traffickers,” he said. “That's why we are getting bigger things like this.”
Crystal meth is now becoming more prevalent in cities as well as in the rural areas.
Lafferty attributes its popularity in rural areas due to anhydrous ammonia being used at one time to make it. Anhydrous ammonia is a farming chemical that was easily accessible in Barren County and other rural areas, making methamphetamine easy to make.
Crystal methamphetamine is readily available and because of that there are less people willing to risk the use of anhydrous ammonia to make methamphetamine.
“The anhydrous takes a lot of pseudoephedrine to make. You can't get it now because the laws in Kentucky limit it to an X amount, plus you get caught with manufacturing meth you're not allowed to buy pseudoephedrine anymore,” Lafferty said. “When that got to be too big of a hassle, the cartel started flooding the crystal meth. It's so cheap it doesn't make any sense to make it anymore. When we get rid of one problem, another one comes along.”Nearly all emergency personnel carry narcan, a nose spray given to those who have overdosed on drugs to counteract the effect of the drugs. This includes deputies with the Barren County Sheriff's Office, police officers with the Glasgow Police Department, firefighters with the Glasgow Fire Department and personnel with the Barren-Metcalfe County Emergency Medical Service.
“We've had it for two years. We haven't used it a lot. I think in the course of two years, I think they've used it twice,” said Barren County Sheriff Kent Keen. “Only because somebody got there before us. In other words, ambulance is responding. Fire is responding. Other police departments are responding like Cave City or something like that. I only remember them talking about two incidences.”
Most deputies, police officers and firefighters use the nose spray, but those with the ambulance service have two options of administering the medicine.
“We use both nasal and IV does of narcan. It has been the protocol for years albeit not used as frequently as it is now,” said Charlie O'Neal, director of the ambulance service.