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Kentucky trend indicates increase in heroin abuse

By Bill Estep Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON -- The number of Kentuckians who reported having family or friends who use heroin has nearly doubled since 2013, indicating a troubling increase in abuse, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The poll found that 17 percent of state residents said they know someone abusing heroin, up from 9 percent in 2013.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky released results of the survey, called the Kentucky Health Issues Poll. The telephone survey of 1,580 Kentuckians was conducted Sept. 11 to Oct. 19 by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

"Kentuckians are seeing friends and family members struggle with addiction, and the increase in heroin use is particularly alarming," said Ben Chandler, president and chief executive officer of the foundation.

The number of people who reported knowledge of heroin abuse by another varied widely around the state.

The rate was highest in northern Kentucky at 36 percent.

In the Louisville area it was 23 percent; 20 percent in the Lexington area; 16 percent in eastern Kentucky; and 9 percent in western Kentucky.

The poll also found that 27 percent of Kentucky adults said they knew someone who had abused prescription pain pills. Kentucky recorded just over 1,300 overdose deaths in 2015, the last year with available figures. That was up from 1,070 in 2012.

Much of the increase has been driven by abuse of heroin and and an even more powerful painkiller called fentanyl.

Kentucky was among four states with the highest age-adjusted overdose death rate in 2015, along with West Virginia, New Hampshire and Ohio, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state is not alone in seeing a dramatic increase in overdose deaths, however. Nationally, heroin-related overdose deaths went up 286 percent from 2002 to 2013, according to the CDC.

Overdoses have contributed to an increase in the premature death rate in many Kentucky counties.

The health issues poll, funded by the foundation and Cincinnati organization called Interact for Health, illustrated regional variations in abuse of drugs other than heroin as well.

While fewer people reported knowledge of heroin abuse in western Kentucky, that area and eastern Kentucky topped reported methamphetamine abuse, at 21 percent each.

In the Lexington area, 19 percent of those polled said they knew someone who used meth, followed by 16 percent in northern Kentucky and 15 percent in Louisville.

Eastern Kentucky had the highest rate of people who said a friend or family member had abused prescription painkillers, at 35 percent.

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