For the past two years, the Courier-Journal has been investigating Kentucky’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, publishing a series of stories that shed light on the state’s rising toll of drug overdoses.
In a state plagued by one of the worst prescription drug abuse problems in the nation, where nearly 1,000 people a year die of overdoses, the newspaper’s investigation has found that Kentucky’s treatment options are woefully limited, especially for hard-core addicts in need of the most intense care.
The Courier-Journal found:
- Only 40 of Kentucky’s 301 treatment and recovery sites offer 24-hour residential care, which experts say may be the only hope for the most severely addicted. And those 40 centers are concentrated in just 19 of the state’s 120 counties, mostly in urban areas, meaning addicts in rural counties often must travel hours for help.
- Nearly 80 percent of Kentucky sites listed by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — 235 — are for outpatients only, typically offering one hour of care a week. The other 26 include a mix of non-residential types, or another type, such as hospital detoxification.
- Kentuckians tend to get less intensive treatment than Americans overall. Two-thirds of the 21,474 Kentuckians admitted for treatment of any drug addiction in 2009 entered once-weekly outpatient care, compared with 46 percent nationally. Less than 5 percent entered residential care, compared with 17 percent nationally.
- Treatment shortages are most severe in Appalachian counties with the state’s highest overdose rates. Six Kentucky counties that rank among the 10 highest for overdose deaths have just one outpatient center or no center at all.
- The state’s overwhelming need for drug addiction treatment means that addicts face waiting lists even in the two counties with the most centers — Jefferson with 32 and Fayette with 25.
Although Kentucky’s behavioral health department budget for substance abuse has remained virtually unchanged for a decade, Attorney General Jack Conway noted that the state does not have sufficient treatment to accommodate drug addicts. He added that experts say the state has less than a third of the treatment beds it needs.
Kerri Richardson, spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, said there was a conscious effort to maintain the funding “even as other state agencies saw deep, painful cuts of up to 40 percent over the past five years.”
States officials recently announced they received $3.6 million in federal grants to boost treatment, the majority going to providers in Whitley and Campbell counties to help at-risk adolescents with mental health and drug-abuse problems.
“Despite a historic recession, Kentucky has expanded its support of substance abuse treatment programs over the past few years as part of the administration’s overall effort to combat drug abuse,” Richardson added.