The number of fatal drug overdoses in Daviess County remains low compared to other parts of the state that have grappled with the opioid crisis, according to the state's annual drug overdose report for 2018.

Although there were more than 1,200 fatal drug overdoses statewide last year, there was perhaps a sign of hope in the report in that the number of fatal overdoses declined.

Drug overdose deaths statewide have increased each year since 2013, according to the state Office of Drug Control Policy, which prepares the report.

In Daviess County, there were 13 fatal drug overdoses last year, according to the report. That number is on par with the recent years. For example, there were 11 fatal overdoses in 2017, 15 in 2016 and 12 in 2015.

"Anyone who has lost his life because of an intentional or accidental overdose, it's certainly a tragedy for the family," Daviess County Coroner Jeff Jones said last week. But, "we are somewhat fortunate that we have not been hit to the extent other counties have been."

There were 1,247 fatal overdoses of Kentucky residents last year, a 15 percent decrease from the 1,477 overdose deaths in 2017. The overdose report credits the decrease to state laws that reduced the amount of prescription opioids a person could receive, to expanded drug treatment programs and to the use of naloxone, a substance administered by first responders that counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose.

The state report says there were fewer deaths from heroin overdoses last year, but that fentanyl, a highly potent opioid more powerful than heroin, was found more often than in 2017. Fentanyl and similar substances caused 786 overdose deaths last year, which make up 61 percent of all fatal overdoses, the report says.

"We have had some cases of fentanyl," in Daviess County, Jones said. "It is still relatively small, compared to other counties in the state."

The region's major drug problem comes from methamphetamine, which has long been the dominant drug in Daviess and surrounding counties. But people with substance abuse disorders often use whatever drug is available, Jones said.

"Typically, with addiction, whatever they can get their hands on is what they are going to use," Jones said. "Understanding addiction is a very difficult thing to do. I've been in law enforcement for 34 years now. I've seen the impact of addiction, but to this day I don't know if I truly understand addiction."

Jones said Daviess County has its own problems with illegal drugs beyond fatal overdoses, such as dealing with drug-related crime and violence. But local officials and law enforcement are working to reduce access to drugs and educate the public on the issue, he said.

"A lot of (credit) goes to our law enforcement partners," Jones said. "... Not only the enforcement of the street-level dealer, but the prosecution of doctors over-prescribing opiates" statewide.

Jone, who is a member of the county Agency for Substance Abuse Policy board, said the local board holds community events to educate people on substance abuse dangers, provides money for drug disposal and has purchased special gloves to help prevent accidental overdoses among law enforcement and responders who come into contact with fentanyl. Those projects were done with state opioid grants.

"It's a great partnership from the local level all the way up to the state level," Jones said.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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