Whitesburg KY

Overdose deaths reach 6 this year

Six Letcher County residents have already died from drug overdoses in 2009, raising the number of overdose deaths to 26 since 2006, Letcher County Coroner Wallace Bolling Jr. said.

Bolling said the drugs most commonly found in overdose victims were painkillers methadone, hydrocodone, tramadol and oxycodone. One person overdosed from cocaine.

“Addiction is a terrible thing,” said Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb. “The sad thing about it is you have people selling drugs to an addict knowing they may overdose.”

Webb said he will begin charging drug dealers with causing the deaths of overdose victims when there is enough evidence available to link the two.

“It doesn’t matter how many drug dealers you arrest, they are always replaced with someone else,” said Webb. “After one becomes an addict it is harder to get people off of pills. Our only hope is to get kids not to do drugs.”

Webb doesn’t believe Letcher recently. He does see an increase in the awareness of the problem.

“I think people are just noticing it more because it affects all families,” said Webb.

Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II said he has seen a definite increase in illegal drug use and drug-related crimes since he took office in January 2001.

“When I took office I had never heard of OxyContin or methamphetimine,” said Banks. “Doctor shopping was also something I knew very little about. It did not take long to learn about each of these.”

Banks estimates that 80 to 85 percent of all crimes committed in Letcher County have a direct link to substance abuse.

“This applies to everything from child abuse, spouse abuse, elder abuse, nonpayment of child support, to cold checks to theft, burglary, robbery and assault,” Banks said. “I would estimate that an even higher percentage of the homicides have a direct link to substance abuse.” Kentucky to successfully prosecute a doctor shopping case, said the legislature and governor have embraced a new philosophy of treatment and alternative sentencing for nonviolent crimes involving substance abuse.

“Unfortunately the funding to implement the treatment programs has fallen far short of the needs of those who are to receive the alternative sentencing and rehab,” said Banks. “It often takes months to be placed into a rehab program. Little funding is provided for expanded rehab services, whether it be inpatient or outpatient.”

Banks said that even when people are fortunate enough to be accepted into a good inpatient rehab program, very little aftercare is available and they often have problems finding help with housing, job training or education.

“As a convicted drug user, most of the recovering addicts are specifically held ineligible to receive student loans, grants or to live in low-income housing,” said Banks. “The recent economic plights of the state and nation have only made this problem much more severe and I fear that the progress made in overcoming substance abuse will be lost due to the lack of follow-up care and assistance to the addicts and their families to get back onto their feet.”

Banks said efforts to combat doctor shopping through the use of the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) program and cooperation by the medical profession and general public have resulted in drastic decreases in the availability of prescription drugs locally.

“As a result the addicts are now obtaining the bulk of the abused prescription drugs from outside of the state,” said Banks. “We are also seeing an increase in the use of methamphetamine and cocaine which is, in my opinion, a direct result of the success in reducing the ability of the addicts to obtain prescription drugs through doctor shopping.

“A great deal of our time and resources are currently spent battling the illegal use of drugs,” Banks added. “A great deal of time and resources will also be spent taking care of the victims of the illegal use of drugs.”

Banks said the victims of drug abuse range from those whose property was stolen to infants born addicted to drugs and children being robbed of their childhood because their parents “were hooked on drugs, in prison, or worse, dead.”

“There are no easy answers nor quick solutions,” said Banks. “Whether the current push for alternative sentencing and more rehab for crimes attributable to substance abuse — the non-violent offenders as they are often referred — works or not remains to be seen.”

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