NewsLEX 18 In-Depth


Kentucky overdose rates among highest in nation, first responders concerned with increasing numbers in 2021

Posted at 9:21 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-24 08:01:51-04

LANCASTER, Ky. (LEX 18) — In 2020, while the United States fought to win the fight against the coronavirus, thousands of Americans lost a different battle as drug overdoses soared around the nation.

Nationwide, overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The data reveals a 29.4 percent increase in the nation compared to 2019.

In Kentucky, overdose numbers rose by 53.7 percent. There were 1,369 overdose deaths in 2019 and 2,104 deaths in 2020

Experts with the CDC say those with substance use disorders were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and restrictions disrupted daily life, isolated people, and made treatment harder to get.

Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson says at one point they were losing more people to drug overdoses than to the coronavirus.

“Mothers would call and say, ‘Please keep my son in jail’, because they knew the jail would in many times protect somebody from an overdose,” Wilson said. “This is affecting every single level of our society.”

Garrard County recorded 14 overdose fatalities in 2020, according to the coroner’s office.

Emergency Management Services Director Tim May says drug-related calls nearly doubled.

In 2019, they responded to 37 non-fatal overdoses. In 2020, they responded to 71.

“It’s heartbreaking to be quite honest with you,” May said. “One of the things I tell them is I say, ‘One day we’re not going to make it there in time to be able to help.’”

Madison County Coroner Jimmy Cornelison says overdoses also soared.

Cornelison says they are seeing an increasing trend again in 2021.

“No one wants to hear the statement that the war on drugs is lost, but I will tell you, the war on drugs is losing,” Cornelison said.

59 people died of an overdose in Madison County in 2020.

So far in 2021, Cornelison has confirmed 42 overdose deaths. 13 more are still pending.

“There’s nothing routine about this. Nothing,” Cornelison said.

Madison County EMS saw a nine percent increase in non-fatal overdoses from 2019 to 2020.

EMS Director Carlos Coyle predicts 2021 numbers will be even higher.

“The greatest minds in the world are working on this problem and, again, we’re just losing ground. What we’re doing is not working. But if we weren’t doing what we’re doing now, these numbers would be more astronomical than they already are,” Coyle said.

A similar situation is unfolding in Fayette County.

According to Coroner Gary Ginn, overdose deaths increased by 63 percent from 2019 to 2020. 128 people died in 2019, 208 died in 2020, and at least 101 have died so far in 2021 of a drug overdose.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, below are some resources: