Federal data shows drop in drug overdose deaths nationwide and in Kentucky

Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a nationwide reduction in fatal overdose deaths last year and an even greater decline in Kentucky.

From December 2022 to December 2023, overdose deaths across the country dropped by an estimated 3%, according to the CDC’s data released earlier this month. That’s the first time the country has reported a decrease in drug overdose deaths in five years.

Kentucky’s decline in overdose fatalities reportedly outpaced the national rate, dropping by nearly 8%.

The CDC’s figures typically are not in complete lockstep with the Kentucky Office for Drug Control Policy’s annual data on fatal overdoses, which are slated to be released in early June. The federal data show what seems to be a trend not just in the commonwealth but nationwide: The number of overdose deaths continues to decline after COVID-19, and fentanyl is still to blame for driving those deaths.

Though there were fewer fentanyl-related deaths in 2023 than the year before, the fully synthetic opioid still claimed the most deaths of any drug. Also rising, and this is a trend also reflected in Kentucky’s local data in recent years, are overdoses involving cocaine and methamphetamine. They rose by 2% and 5%, respectively nationwide.

In 2022 in Kentucky, 90% of deaths involved opioids — more than 70% of which involved fentanyl, specifically — and 50% involved meth.

The commonwealth, like many states, has ramped up its efforts to curb the drug epidemic, including by making naloxone, or narcan, more widely available. The nasal spray, when administered to someone experiencing an opioid overdose, immediately reverses the drug’s impact.

The state recently launched the website, findnalaxone.ky.gov, instructing people where they can find naloxone near them and how to administer it.

Though fentanyl continues to drive overdoses, Kentucky’s 2022 data showed a reduction in drug-related deaths for the first time since 2018. Rates of primarily opioid-related deaths dropped by 5%, welcome news after the state saw its highest-ever number of deaths — 2,257 — in 2021.

In 2022, Kentucky was one of only eight states that noted a significant decrease in drug deaths, according to the state Office for Drug Control Policy’s 2022 annual report.

The state’s 2023 annual report is to be released the first week of June.