Kentucky Dealing with Growing Illicit Drug Problem
There’s no question, Kentucky is one of the toughest states in the country in terms of alcohol restrictions. Indeed, nearly 40% of Kentucky’s 120 counties are dry, either totally, or are considered “moist”. There are a lot of confusing restrictions, but clearly Kentucky is one of the few states which still continues to severely restrict alcohol use.
Illicit Drug Problem – Methamphetamine
In a strange twist of fate, it seems that dry counties are encountered a bigger meth problem than others. In areas where alcohol is prohibited (“dry”) there is more meth being consumed. “Moist” counties allow it within some municipalities. “Wet” counties have no restrictions at all.
This conclusion was brought forth by researchers at the University of Louisville. They noticed that dry counties had more meth lab busts, and more meth-related crime in general:
“If all counties were to become wet, the total number of meth lab seizures in Kentucky would decline by about 25 percent.”
“Our results add support to the idea that prohibiting the sale of alcohol flattens the punishment gradient, lowering the relative cost of participating in the market for illegal drugs.”
Moreover, if you are buying alcohol illegally, it’s not that far of a reach to buying meth on the black market,. That is, you will be punished for either one, so what difference does it make? Basically, prohibition is operating as a sort of gateway to other illegal activities.
This is not the first research to find negative effects in localized alcohol prohibition. In 2005, the Journal of Law and Economics published a paper which focused on Kentucky counties which transitioned from dry to wet, and illicit drug use results. It was found that drug-related fatalities decreased by 14%.
Another troubling fact: dry counties often have higher rates of DUI-related auto accidents. The theory behind this is that people have to drive farther to allocate alcohol. Also, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found in 2010 that the rate of binge drinking in Alabama tended to be higher in dry counties than wet counties.
Prohibition doesn’t really work. The war on drugs doesn’t really work. Where this is demand, people will continue to seek out drugs and alcohol. Laws should focus on harm reduction and prevention, and more funding is needed to provide residents with education and treatment. If prohibiting alcohol is making both the alcohol and illicit drug problem worse, clearly it is a policy that needs to be re-addressed.
Garrard County is a dry county, with less than 17,000 people. It is located near the center of the state. It’s county seat, Lancaster, has less than 3,500 residents.
Garrard County Coroner Daryl Hodge recently report that in 2016, this tiny county has already seen 3 overdose deaths from illicit drug use. One was heroin, one fentanyl, and another morphine.
All the victims, however, thought they were getting heroin. This is another growing problem – similar looking opioid substances are sometimes laced into, or outright passed off as heroin. Sometimes these substances, such as fentanyl, are many times stronger.
Adjacent Madison County is much larger, with roughly 80,000 residents. For this region, the illicit drug problem has been ongoing.
Coroner Jimmy Cornelison on a deceased user, found with a needle is his arm:
“Recently we found one in the bathroom, and if you just walked in, you would have thought he was just in the bathroom, but he was dead, It means we have a problem, It means we are losing a generation is exactly what it means.”
Cornelison also believes that autopsies are the answer when dealing with overdose deaths. He said that prosecutors must prove beyond any doubt that drugs were the cause of death:
“Can you beyond a shadow of a doubt tell me 100 percent that killed them or did they have a heart attack or pulmonary embolism? The answer is no. So now it’s ‘yes I can’ because somebody smarter than me has done an autopsy on this person.”
Both coroners believe that overdose deaths from illicit drug use should be treated as crime scenes. Hodge admits that it’s expensive to send overdoses for autopsies, but believes it’s worth it.
While overdose fatalities are increasing in both counties, so are the number of lives being saved with naloxone (Narcan), an antidote which effectively reverses the depressant, life-threatening effects of opioid overdoses. According to Madison County EMS, this drug was rendered over 400 times in 2015. That’s twice the amount of 2014.
Who believes that autopsies for drug overdoses aren’t warranted? We need to know what’s killing people, what’s out there on the streets.
Kentucky Getting $1.8 Million in Federal Funding for Opioid Addiction
In more positive news, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced early this month that 5 clinics in Kentucky are going to receive a total $1.8 million to fight the heroin and prescription painkiller epidemic.
All in all, 271 health centers in 45 states will receive $94 million, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. In Kentucky, funding recipients include clinics in Louisville, Burkesville, Mount Sterling, and Whitesburg, as well as Eastern Kentucky University (Richmond).
Five states near Kentucky received $1 million or more in funding: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, and West Virginia.
1,087 Kentucky residents died of overdoses in 2014, according to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, Also, HHS estimates that overdose fatalities from prescription painkillers quadrupled in the years between 1999-2013. Heroin-related deaths increased 39% from 2012 to 2013.
The government estimates that around 4.5 million Americans used prescription opioids for non-medical purposes in 2013, and 289,000 used heroin.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology