Even though the number of drug overdose deaths in Letcher County has decreased over the last two years, Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb says prescription drug abuse remains widespread.
Ten people died in 2013 from drug overdoses in Letcher County, according to statistics by the Letcher County coroner’s office. Twelve overdoses were reported in 2012, while 24 died from overdoses in 2011. In 2010, 18 overdose deaths were reported in Letcher County.
“Our biggest problem is prescription drugs,” said Webb. “There are still a lot of people addicted to prescription drugs.”
He contributed the slight decrease in overdose deaths to drug rehabilitation.
“A lot have asked for rehab,” said Webb. “People actually want to get off drugs. A lot is court ordered.”
First responders being familiar with treating overdoses may also play a role in the decrease of deaths, said Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II.
“First responders are able to recognize symptoms,” said Banks. “The more cases you see of it the better you are to deal with it.”
Forty overdoses were diagnosed and treated in 2013 at the Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital emergency room, said Letcher County Coroner Marty Baker, who is a Whitesburg ARH supervisor. Had those people not sought medical attention, they most likely would have died, said Baker.
Baker said this number could be higher because some are primarily listed as seizures and car accidents.
In addition to the 10 overdose deaths, 11 drug-related deaths were reported in 2013. In those cases, which involved suicides or accidents, Baker said a significant amount of drugs were detected.
About 300 of Letcher County’s 24,500-plus residents die each year. The coroner’s office worked a total of 88 fatality cases in 2013 and drugs contributed to 21 of those cases. In 2012, of the 80 cases the coroner’s office worked, drugs contributed to 20 of the cases — 12 overdoses and eight drug-related deaths.
Similar to the previous year, overdose deaths in 2013 mostly included a combination of prescription painkillers and antianxiety drugs classified as benzodiazepines. Drugs sold under the brand names Klonopin, Valium and Xanax are the benzodiazepines that most often appear in toxicology reports.
Opiates such as Hydrocodone are also often abused.
Suboxone, which is used to treat opiate addiction, mixed with other pills, was detected in several toxicology reports, said Baker.
Banks said the narcotic Oxy- Contin is no longer the pill of choice. Synthetic drug use is down and he said he is apprehensive of the latest trend, black tar heroin, which contains morphine derivatives. Although black tar heroin has not made its way in abundance to Letcher County, it has in northern Kentucky.
“It’s cheaper for them to make it and they trade it for marijuana because they like Kentucky marijuana,” said Banks.
Webb said out-of-county and out-of-state pain clinics remain the biggest source for Letcher County residents to obtain prescription narcotics.
“People that are addicted are going to get pills somewhere,” said Webb.