(LOUISVILLE, Ky - April 18, 2018) The percentage of Kentucky adults who were prescribed pain pills dropped from about half to one in three from 2011 to 2017, according to the latest report from the Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP). The poll also found that 24 percent of Kentucky adults knows someone who has abused prescription pain drugs, down from 32 percent in 2011.
A second report released this week found that 16 percent of Kentucky adults reported knowing someone who has experienced problems as a result of using methamphetamine or heroin. Problems with heroin as reported by KHIP increased from 2013 to 2016, but remained steady over the last year, while problems with meth have remained about the same the last four years the question has been asked.
KHIP is an annual telephone poll of Kentucky adults about health issues; it is funded jointly by the Foundation for a Health Kentucky and Cincinnati-based Interact for Health.
"Misuse of opioids such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and codeine remains a critical public health and safety issue for Kentucky," said Ben Chandler, President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "Not only are we losing more than 1,600 lives a year to overdoses, we are facing incredible losses in quality of life, workplace productivity, and business competitiveness. This poll is yet another piece of evidence that Kentucky's focus on resolving the drug abuse crisis must continue. And it must involve multiple sectors of our society working together to engage all individuals struggling with addiction."
The prescription drug report released today also showed that 21 percent of Kentucky adults thought they received the right amount of prescribed pain relief medication, while 6 percent thought they received too much and 7 percent thought they didn't get enough. In 2017, far fewer Kentucky adults - 34 percent - reported being prescribed pain pills in the five preceding years compared to 2011 - 55 percent.
"Perhaps all of the education that's being done about the dangers of overprescribing narcotic pain relievers is starting to make a difference, both in the number of people getting prescriptions and the amount of the pain medication they receive," Chandler said. "Meanwhile, in addition to keeping unnecessary pain prescriptions to an absolute minimum, we must also address the infectious disease and heroin addiction issues that have been exacerbated by the prescription drug abuse crisis that is impacting every region of Kentucky."
From 2008 to 2015, Kentucky had the highest rate of new hepatitis C infections in the nation, according to the 2017 State Health Assessment update published by the Kentucky Department for Public Health. HIV infections remained steady during that period.
Those who live in Eastern Kentucky were the least likely to report being prescribed opioids, compared to those living in other regions of the state. Those living in Northern Kentucky and the Louisville area, however, reported the highest percentages of knowing someone who has experienced problems as a result of using heroin. Northern Kentucky has been ground zero for Kentucky's substance use epidemic, with 29 percent of those polled saying they have friends or family members who have struggled with heroin-related problems. But since 2013, the percentage has risen significantly in Louisville (from 8 percent to 23 percent), Lexington (from 9 percent in 2013 to 18 percent in 2017) and Eastern Kentucky (8 percent to 14 percent).
According to the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC), opioids, including prescription drugs, are the most common cause of overdose deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, of the 64,000 drug overdoses in the United States in 2016, more than 15,000 were due to heroin use and nearly 8,000 were due to methamphetamine use. Kentucky is ranked fifth for overdose deaths in the country, with a rate of 34 deaths per 100,000 people.
Problems among friends or family members associated with meth use also have increased significantly since KHIP began asking the question in 2013 in two of five Kentucky regions: Louisville (6 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2017) and Northern Kentucky (11 percent to 17 percent). They have declined six percentage points from 2016 to 2017 in the greater Lexington area (19 percent to 13 percent), however.
The report on prescription drugs is available here, and the report on heroin and methamphetamine use is here.
About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Funded by an endowment, the mission of the nonpartisan Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity. Since the Foundation opened its doors in 2001, it has invested more than $27 million in health policy research, advocacy, and demonstration project grants across the Commonwealth Follow the Foundation on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and visit our website at www.healthy-ky.org.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth