Kentucky’s come up with a rather ingenious way to fight the opioid crisis and it begins by coming to terms with the fact that there’s more than one opioid crisis.

“The government and media generally quantify the nation’s opioid problem on only one dimension: how many people have died. Kentucky [is] working to provide an additional dimension: exactly which drugs — either prescription opioids or illicit ones like heroin and synthetic fentanyl — led to a death. Armed with even that one extra bit of data, a state can fight its opioid crisis in a new way.”

So writes Kathryn Casteel in a FiveThirtyEight feature identifying the concerted efforts of the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center.

“A partnership between the state Public Health Department and the University of Kentucky, the center is investigating the causes of the state’s drug overdoses to help policymakers make more educated decisions about how to tackle the crisis. That means improving the accuracy of death certificates and other available data and encouraging law enforcement groups, public health officials and other state agencies to communicate with one another better.”

KIPRC “started working with drug overdose mortality data in 2011,” continues Casteel, “and quickly realized how limited was death certificate information on how someone died and what killed them.”

In response, the center created the Drug Overdose Fatality Surveillance System, a comprehensive statistic aggregator “that combines several data sources, including death certificate information, post-mortem toxicology analysis and the prescription drug history of victims.”

“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. 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.”

The center’s aggressive aggregating is making a significant impact. “Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said he was able to push major legislation changes with the help of KIPRC’s research, “[including] a bill that increased the availability of naloxone and supplied funding for treatment programs.”

While using death certificates to save lives and increase the availability of treatment might at first sound somewhat counterintuitive (if not downright convoluted), we at Recovery Boot Camp believe in efficacy, and KIPRC’s good works appear to be nothing but efficacious. Consequently, we’d like to offer a resounding round of applause to the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center for coming up with such a forward-thinking program and for placing Kentucky at the forefront of the fight of America’s life.

(Illustration courtesy FiveThirtyEight)

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