The Heroin Epidemic

There's a new drug of choice in Kentucky: Heroin. Fentanyl.

 2016 ODCP Overdose Fatality Report Final.pdf2016 ODCP Overdose Fatality Report Final.pdf

Addiction has reached epidemic levels in Kentucky, where painkiller and heroin abuse are rampant.  Kentucky is all to familiar with heroin overdoses. Especially hit hard have been Northern Kentucky, Louisville, and Lexington raising fears that the heroin scrouge will soon ravage the entire Commonwealth.  

Heroin – known by the nicknames such as Black Tar, Big H. Dog, Horse, and Puppy Chow, is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy. Heroin can be injected, smoked in a water pipe, inhaled as smoke through a straw, or snorted as powder through the nose.

Heroin is especially deadly because it is both highly addictive and unpredictable.  It is also dangerous because there is no way to know exactly what you're buying.

A key driver behind the uptick in heroin abuse was the reformulation of two widely abused prescription pain drugs, making them harder to crush and snort. Drug manufacturers reformulated OxyContin in 2010 and Opana in 2011.

The growing number of  people who began abusing expensive prescription drugs are switching to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to buy. The reason may come down to basic economics: illegally obtained prescription pain killers have become more expensive and harder to get, while the price and difficulty in obtaining heroin have decreased. An 80 mg OxyContin pill runs between $60 to $100 on the street. Heroin costs about $9 a dose. Even among heavy heroin abusers, a day’s worth of the drug is cheaper than a couple hits of Oxycontin.

Increasingly, heroin is being laced with fentanyl, a deadly and powerful synthetic drug. 

To impact the problem, the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy will continue to work towards increased public education, increased access to treatment, enhanced penalties for major traffickers, and greater access to Narcan (also referred to as Naloxone).




Because of its potency and toxicity, fentanyl can kill quickly. It’s critical that people call 911 immediately when they suspect someone is having a drug overdose so they can receive a potentially life-saving medication called naloxone.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but much more potent than morphine. It is typically used during anesthesia, to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. It is sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to opiates. It is a schedule II prescription drug. However, recent overdoses have been connected to illegally produced and trafficked fentanyl, not diverted pharmaceutical fentanyl.


In its prescription form, fentanyl is known as Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze. Street names for the drug include: Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, or Tango and Cash.


Like heroin, morphine and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opiate receptors, highly concentrated in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opiate drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation – and in some people, the urge to use the drug again and again. Medications called opiate receptor antagonists act by blocking the effects of opiate drugs. Naloxone is one such antagonist. Overdoses of fentanyl should be treated immediately with an opiate antagonist.

When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl is often administered via injection, transdermal patch or in lozenge form. However, the type of fentanyl associated with recent overdoses was produced illegally in underground laboratories and sometimes mixed with (or substituted for) heroin in a powder form.

Mixing fentanyl with street-sold heroin or cocaine markedly amplifies their potency and potential dangers, including the risk of death. Effects include: euphoira, drowiness/respiratory depression and arrest, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance and addiction.



Senate Bill 192 ~ " The Heroin Bill" 

The most talked-about issue of the General Assembly’s 2015 session was also a main focus of the late-night closing hours of the session as lawmakers struck an agreement on a comprehensive bill to battle the state’s heroin epidemic.
Heroin is devastating Kentucky families in a number of ways, and the legislation approved strikes back against the deadly drug on a number of fronts. The multi-prong approach includes stronger penalties for dealers and traffickers and better treatment options for addicts seeking help.
 Lawmakers approved the legislation, Senate Bill 192, just hours before adjourning the 2015 session in the early morning of March 25. The bill was signed into law later that morning by Gov. Steve Beshear. Since the bill contained an emergency clause, it took effect as state law as soon as the governor signed it.
Under the new law, importing heroin into Kentucky with intent to distribute or sell is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Those convicted of selling between 2 grams and 100 grams of heroin will not be eligible for parole before serving at least half of their five to ten years sentences. Those caught selling even more would face sentences of up to 20 years.
The new law also recognizes the health crisis that heroin poses and provides new funds to make treatment more widely available to those seeking help. The state’s addiction treatment system will receive an immediate $10 million boost followed by $24 million annually.
 Another newly established tool in the fight against the health problems associated with heroin will permit clean needle exchanges at health departments, if a local jurisdiction approves. Supporters say the needle exchange programs show success in curbing the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV infection from shared needles. The programs also bring addicts into health departments where they’ll be closer to the state’s network of care and more likely to seek help for their addictions.
SB 192 will increase the availability of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose if promptly administered. The bill also encourages people to call for help when overdose victims need it by including a “Good Samaritan” provision. That will shield people from prosecution when they seek help for someone who overdoses.