"The efforts that KIPRC and the state have made to improve this data have led to crucial findings, including that Kentucky’s crisis isn’t one crisis, but many," Kathryn Casteel reports for FiveThirtyEight. "Different parts of the state are afflicted with different drugs. Northern Kentucky, for example, has a high prevalence of heroin and fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that is more deadly than heroin and other types of opioids — while in the eastern part of the state, prescription opioids are still the main concern.
|KIPRC chart; click on the image to enlarge it.|
"We’re not doing this for the sake of research," Svetla Slavova, a biostatistician working with KIPRC, told Casteel. "We provide actionable data for policymaking, treatment and prevention. We’re trying to be responsive and provide data that will help make these decisions."
Because of KIPRC's research, Van Ingram, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy said he was able to push legislation to increase the availability of anti-overdose drug naloxone; Gov. Matt Bevin signed the bill into law in 2015.
One of KIPRC's biggest efforts is to make death certificate information more uniform across the state, because "even the smallest differences in language can leave overdose deaths uncounted," Casteel reports. Sarah Hargrove, a data management analyst for KIPRC and former autopsy technician for the state, is spearheading the effort. It's tough going, since some coroners have limited resources and funding, and some have little medical experience.
But KIPRC is making headway. "Using the state’s DOFSS system, the researchers were able to determine the specific drugs that were involved in 97 percent of drug overdose fatalities in 2016; that’s compared with 82 percent using deaths certificates alone," Casteel reports. "Additionally, the researchers used DOFSS to find which drugs were most commonly involved in deaths linked to a combination of substances, as well as which drugs were involved in overdose deaths among people of different age groups and genders."