Drug overdose deaths skyrocket in Jefferson County during COVID-19

By the end of the year, there might be over 60 percent more drug overdose deaths than last year in Jefferson County.
Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 7:01 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - By the time this year is over, there could be more than 60 percent more drug overdose deaths in Jefferson County than last year.

On Wednesday, the Jefferson County coroner reported 504 confirmed overdose deaths, with nearly 100 suspected cases still awaiting toxicology reports.

The latest number exceeds the previous high of 425 deaths in 2017, and a recent low of 218 deaths in 2015.

Some say it is the result of the opioid epidemic colliding with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID has caused a lot of issues with how we deliver care, and it’s limited us in a lot of ways,” UofL Emergency Room Physician Dr. Martin Huecker said. “But unfortunately this (addiction) epidemic was already going on and it continued that whole time.”

Huecker said 2020 brought an overall decrease in volume to the emergency room, but at the same time, overdoses and visits for substance abuse rose.

“People are under more stress,” Huecker said. “People cannot get to medication-assisted treatment or medications for opiate abuse disorder. And so they are using illicit drugs and we’ve seen a lot of overdoses.”

The Jefferson County coroner reports a rate of 1.8 overdose deaths each day.

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