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Kentucky, (dubbed the "Bluegrass State" for the it's luscious fields that appear blue at certain times of the year) is famous for several other things: horses, (some of the finest thoroughbreds in the world) Bourbon, (there are actually more bourbon barrels than people in Kentucky) and more recently it's become known for a darker, more sinister distinction: an out-of-control opioid epidemic.
The US is in the middle of the worst substance abuse crisis in our history. According to the CDC, there were 63,632 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, or roughly 174 deaths every day. Drug and alcohol addiction is a national cancer, infecting people from all walks of life, rich and poor, young and old. It's sickened people across the US, and has been merciless on Kentucky. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 25,428 people were admitted to Kentucky rehab programs in 2010, (made up of roughly 66.9% men and 33.1% women.)
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Kentucky like a wildfire, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. It's a particularly menacing foe because it's an addiction that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the sensation- And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful feeling that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. In 2018, Kentucky providers state-wide wrote 79.5 opioid prescriptions per every 100 persons, and several counties in Kentucky now lead the nation in the quantity of narcotic pain medications distributed per person.
In addition to ruining lives, prescription opioid abuse can also send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is far cheaper than the pills, and usually much easier to obtain on the street.) Three out of four Americans using heroin report that their addiction began with the use of prescription opioids. The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.to the corresponding
In addition to its opioid problem, Kentucky is wrestling with a methamphetamine goliath that just seems to grow bigger every day. There were a record high number of meth labs in Kentucky in 2010, and in the same year, 1,027 people were admitted to treatment for amphetamine addiction. Approximately one-fourth of Kentucky's federally sentenced drug offenses in 2006 involved crystal meth or methamphetamine.
A 2010 study took a wider look at the substances most commonly abused by youth in Kansas, and the numbers give cause for concern.
17% of Kentucky high school students report they drank alcohol for the first time before age 13 years.
27% of these same high school students report they had at least 1 drink of alcohol on at least 1 day during the last month.
13% of high school students report they had 4 or more drinks of alcohol in a row (if they were female) or 5 or more drinks of alcohol in a row (if they were male), within a couple of hours, within the last month.
39% of Kentucky high school students report they usually obtained the alcohol they drank by someone giving it to them.
4% of high school students (grades 9-12) report they drove a car or other vehicle when they had been drinking alcohol, 1 or more times during the last month.
32% of Kentucky high school students (grades 9-12) report they've used marijuana (also called grass, pot, or weed) 1 or more times in their lifetime. This is of particular concern because marijuana has been shown to affect brain development in young people, and can also sometimes lead to abuse of harder drugs.
5% of Kentucky high school students report they've used any form of cocaine (for example, powder, crack, or freebase) 1 or more times in their lifetime.
4% of Kentucky youth ages 12-17 report using pain relievers in any way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
While examining the numbers can make the problem seem insurmountable, the good news for Kentucky residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. We are more connected now than ever and "The Bluegrass State" is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Kentucky State Facts
Kentucky Population: 4,043,455
Law Enforcement Officers in Kentucky: 8,085
Kentucky Prison Population: 24,700
Kentucky Probation Population: 24,856
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 38
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Kentucky
Cocaine: 442.9 kgs.
Heroin: 4.6 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 22.1 kgs.
Marijuana: 429.9 kgs.
Ecstasy: 17,103 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 377 (DEA, state, and local)
Kentucky Drug Situation: Marijuana, methamphetamine, diverted pharmaceutical drugs, and cocaine continue to be the primary drug threats in the state of Kentucky. The Eastern Kentucky region in particular has been a primary source of marijuana cultivation, especially the Daniel Boone National Forest. In 2003, 522,957 marijuana plants were eradicated in Kentucky, according to the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. Though Kentucky is the site of large-scale marijuana cultivation, most of the marijuana produced in the state is exported to markets in other states, including Illinois, Ohio, New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. Methamphetamine is a dramatically increasing threat throughout Kentucky. Law enforcement authorities in Kentucky see this as an "exploding" trend much the same as crack cocaine several years ago. Though methamphetamine manufacturing activity in Kentucky consists mostly of small, unsophisticated clandestine laboratories producing limited amounts of methamphetamine, this activity is expected to expand rapidly in the near future in terms of both the number of labs and their size/sophistication. After marijuana, cocaine is the primary drug seized in Kentucky. The limited competition in remote areas makes the small communities of Eastern Kentucky immensely popular and profitable for cocaine trafficking organizations from major metropolitan areas. Additionally, urban areas such as Lexington and Louisville are used as transshipment points for cocaine en route from the southwest border to markets in the Northeastern U.S. Finally, several counties in eastern Kentucky lead the nation in terms of grams of narcotic pain medications distributed on a per capita basis. Aside from marijuana cultivation and trafficking, the trafficking and illicit usage of prescription drugs in the area may be the most significant current drug threat facing the residents of Eastern Kentucky.
Cocaine in Kentucky: Cocaine HCl is readily available throughout Kentucky, with the greatest availability in the densely populated areas where quantities remain stable. Major traffickers are African American, Hispanic, and Colombian. Cocaine destined for the state of Kentucky originates from source areas such as the southwest border of the U.S. and Southern Florida. The price and purity of cocaine has remained relatively stable in Kentucky for the past several years. Gram quantities continue to sell between $100-150, ounce quantities $900-1,200, and kilograms $20,000-28,000. The cocaine in urban areas is consistently purchased and seized in the 40 to 90 percent purity range.
Heroin in Kentucky: Heroin is extremely rare in the state of Kentucky. When encountered, heroin is usually found in user amounts and sources are in either Cincinnati or Detroit.Methamphetamine in Kentucky: Methamphetamine continues to be available in Kentucky, especially in the rural areas of the state. Kentucky methamphetamine production is a simple process taught among violators and dominated by Caucasians in the lower social and economic class, including former marijuana cultivators, who are beginning to realize the greater profit margin and diminished threat from law enforcement posed by methamphetamine production versus marijuana cultivation. Mexican violators are increasingly replacing local manufacturers as the primary suppliers of methamphetamine in rural Kentucky. As they had done in Tennessee, Mexican organizations first infiltrate the market by offering high-quality methamphetamine at low prices, amassing a large customer base that comes to prefer the superior product they offer over locally produced "hillbilly meth." Once the customer base is firmly established, they raise prices. This process is currently underway in rural Kentucky.
Diverted Pharmaceutical Drugs in Kentucky: The illicit use of prescription drugs throughout Kentucky is perhaps the most underestimated of its drug problems. During 2003, 19,366 dosage units of diverted pharmaceutical drugs were seized by HIDTA-participating agencies in Kentucky. Nevertheless, this seizure rate does not indicate fully the seriousness of the impact of the illicit use and trafficking of prescription drugs in the area. Counties in eastern Kentucky lead the nation in terms of grams of narcotic pain medications distributed on a per capita basis. Aside from marijuana cultivation and trafficking, the trafficking and illicit usage of prescription drugs in the area may be the most significant current drug threat within the Appalachia HIDTA.
Investigative agencies in Kentucky target physicians who prescribe medication to abusers who "doctor shop." These physicians often overcharge the Medicare and Medicaid programs as well as private insurance agencies. The "patients" sell the controlled substances on the street for enormous profits, and abuse the substances themselves.
The abuse and trafficking of diverted pharmaceutical drugs profoundly affect nearly all facets of life for residents of Eastern Kentucky, including local politics. The large demand for these substances, combined with the vast profit potential offered by illicit drug distribution, has lead to significant political corruption and voting fraud at the county and city levels. "What it takes to get the attention of some voters now is no longer a case of beer or $10 or $15. Now it's a handful of OxyContin," says Lori Daniel, an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney.
In Kentucky, between January 2000 and May 2001, the Kentucky State Medical Examiner's (ME's) Office identified the presence of oxycodone in the bodies of 69 individuals who died. Toxic oxycodone levels were reported in 36 of the 69 deaths.
According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1.4 percent of admissions to U.S. drug treatment facilities in 1999 resulted from the abuse of "other opiates," i.e., narcotic drugs other than heroin. During that same year, 1.8 percent of drug treatment admissions statewide in Kentucky resulted from the abuse of these substances. A regional newspaper, The Lexington Herald-Leader, surveyed five eastern Kentucky substance abuse treatment centers, which reported a 288 percent increase in the number of narcotics abusers seeking treatment from 1998 through 2001. These figures are substantially greater than the national average.
Diverted pharmaceutical drugs are also becoming the primary cause of DUI arrests in some Eastern Kentucky counties. In 2000, three eastern Kentucky counties, Clay, Laurel, and Martin, reported more DUI charges resulting from drugs than alcohol.
Oxycontin in Kentucky: OxyContin has emerged as the most serious pharmaceutical drug threat in Eastern Kentucky. A 12-hour time-released variant of the generic opioid oxycodone, OxyContin is available in strengths ranging from 10 to 80 milligrams, each tablet of which is sold illicitly at a street value of approximately $2.50 per milligram (over ten times the drug's legitimate purchase price). OxyContin is a Schedule II narcotic normally prescribed as an analgesic for cancer and severe arthritis patients. Extremely addictive, it causes confusion, euphoria, light-headedness and sedation. The tablets are often crushed or melted, then snorted or injected, bypassing the time-release mechanism so that the entire dosage enters the bloodstream simultaneously, often with deadly results. OxyContin addiction is the root cause of a range of criminal activity in the Eastern Kentucky such as robbery, theft, assault, and various types of prescription fraud. In recent years, Kentucky and West Virginia have seen an alarming increase in pharmacy robberies and thefts (see table above). In many cases the perpetrators ignored the cash, interested only in obtaining OxyContin tablets. The availability of OxyContin appears to be diminishing in Kentucky, as evidenced by the recent rise in the street price from $1.00 to approximately $2.00 per milligram. Investigators in Eastern Kentucky note an increasing incidence of OxyContin being imported into the state from Mexico, where local traffickers obtain (legal) prescriptions from Mexican doctors, then carry the maximum allowable quantity across the border for distribution in the Appalachia HIDTA. Anecdotal information from across the nation, and especially from the states surrounding Kentucky such as Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, suggests that OxyContin abusers may switch to heroin and/or methadone in response to a diminished availability of OxyContin in a given region. This trend is beginning to manifest itself in Kentucky, with regional doctors increasingly prescribing methadone in lieu of OxyContin for pain management.
Club Drugs in Kentucky: LSD, MDMA, and GHB are all available in the Lexington area. The availability of MDMA seems to be increasing, while the availability of LSD and GHB have remained static or decreased slightly. The source area for MDMA in the Lexington area has been identified as Florida. The source area for LSD is California, and GHB is manufactured locally. The Lexington RO has a Priority Target Investigation involving two groups who distribute thousands of dosage units of MDMA per month in the Lexington area. The Lexington RO has made several undercover purchases from members of these organizations and has arrested four individuals thus far. Sales have been taking place at rave parties, nightclubs, bars, and hangouts for high school aged individuals.
Marijuana in Kentucky: Kentucky averages third or fourth in terms of total marijuana production, after California, Hawaii, and sometimes Tennessee. The Daniel Boone National Forest, which covers more than 690,000 acres of Eastern Kentucky, is a favored site for cultivators. The forestlands are remote, sparsely populated, very accessible, and fall within what is known as the "marijuana belt," so-named due to ideal soil and climate conditions for cannabis cultivation. Along with growing conditions, the National Forest, in its timber practices, has opened a canopy for new marijuana growth in numerous areas where the sunlight penetrates the forest floor. As a result, marijuana plots in the National Forests are found in various locations from bottomlands, on hillsides, to the tops of mountains, with the regeneration areas being an especially popular spot for growers. Marijuana growers also perceive the vast rural areas of the National Forests as too spacious for law enforcement officials to detect all activities. Aside from ideal locations for marijuana plots, growers often plant their crops on public lands, such as National Forests, in an effort to draw greater protection from personal and/or financial loss due to asset forfeiture procedures, should they be apprehended. Overall, 206,908 marijuana plants were eradicated the Daniel Boone National Forest in 2003. The Daniel Boone is abused by the collateral effects of marijuana cultivation, including property damage to natural resources, archeological sites, and wildlife, including endangered species. Marijuana producers have destroyed numerous trees, plants and fauna, as well as gates and fences, to clear cultivation sites and drive vehicles to/from the marijuana plots. Additionally, during the cultivation of marijuana, growers frequently use a variety of poisonous chemical fertilizers upon forestlands. In 2003, 515 acres of the Daniel Boone National Forest were classified as "impacted environmentally because of drug activity" by the U.S. Forest Service. As noted above, most of the marijuana produced in Kentucky is destined for markets in other states. This trend becomes evident when one contrasts marijuana production rates in Kentucky with consumption rates in the state. Far more marijuana is cultivated in Kentucky than the local market consumes. Additionally, anecdotal information from cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York City, etc., suggests that Kentucky marijuana is prized in those markets.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been three MET deployments in the State of Kentucky since the inception of the program: Louisville, Covington, and Hopkinsville.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of Kentucky.