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Kentucky Prescription Drug Addiction


Prescription drug addiction is a serious public health concern in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Fortunately, a growing number of people are seeking treatment for their addictions. According to the Office of the Attorney General of Kentucky, more people die from drug overdoses than traffic accidents. Over 1,000 Kentucky residents died from drug overdoses in 2014 alone. A serious up rise of prescription drug abuse drove the steep increase in overdose fatalities. Of the 979 deaths in 2010, prescription drugs were involved in 522, or 53 percent, according to the study by the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center. This number has since increased. A “Forbes” magazine article also declared Kentucky the fourth “most medicated state” in the country.

“The rate of overdose deaths rose from 6 per 100,000 Kentucky residents to 22.9 per 100,000 residents over the 11 years covered in the study. That meant Kentucky had the third-highest rate of overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2010, up from fifth the year before,” stated by Terry Bunn, the director of the research center and an author of the report.

Death rates tripled among men and women between 2000 and 2010. In 2010, for example, 62 percent of overdose fatalities were among men, and the highest number of deaths involved painkillers considered opioids, such as OxyContin, Lortab and Roxicet, according to the study. Those drugs also accounted for the most emergency-room visits for overdoses, followed closely by drugs called benzodiazepines, which are central nervous system depressants such as Valium and Xanax.

However, there is some promising news about the fight against Kentucky prescription drug addiction. According to a report from the University of Kentucky, “doctor shopping” has decreased by 50 percent. This is the practice of going to multiple physicians to seek prescriptions for pain medications. Additionally, more people in the Commonwealth are pursuing rehabilitation for their prescription addiction.

In 2012, the state government passed a law requiring enhanced prescription drug reporting and mandated that physicians own pain management clinics.

“This report validates the efforts we have made to reverse an epidemic that is killing or crippling tens of thousands of our citizens and is hurting us all in ways large and small,” says Greg Stumbo, Kentucky House of Representatives Speaker in an interview with “UK Now,” the University of Kentucky News.

Common Drugs of Abuse and Addiction

Kentucky prescription drug addiction is a deadly and concerning occurrence. People may abuse prescription drugs in different ways. A doctor may prescribe a prescription intended for temporary use, and a person may find himself or herself dependent upon the drug and start seeking them illegally. Others may specifically use painkilling medications to get “high” by crushing the medicines and snorting them. Below are some examples of several highly addictive medications those in Kentucky may struggle with.


Opiates are medications that are either derived from the Asian poppy plant (morphine) or synthetically created to give off similar effects, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. Some other names for prescription opiates include Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Kadian and Avinza. These medications work by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain, thus relieving pain.

Opiates are a Schedule II drug, which means they have a medical purpose of relieving pain, yet are highly addictive. They are highly addictive because they also affect the portions of the brain involved in reward, which creates feelings of euphoria when a person uses it.

Signs a person may be abusing opiates include unexplained sleepiness, mental confusion, nausea, constipation and slowed breathing. A person will develop a tolerance to the drug and will attempt to use more and more of it, even if the drug is causing them problems personally and professionally.

One of the most concerning effects of opiates is that when taken other than as prescribed, they can be deadly. Opiates depress the respiratory system, which can slow breathing. The results can be death, coma and/or permanent brain damage.

Treatments are available for those in Kentucky who struggle with opiate abuse. Medications, such as Suboxone, can be given to reduce withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate abuse. These include restlessness, muscle pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, restless leg movements and cold flashes. In addition to detoxification services, those who struggle with opiate addiction can benefit from group and individual therapies.


Sedatives or hypnotics are medications doctors prescribe to treat conditions such as anxiety, muscle tension and depression. Sedatives belong to the drug category benzodiazepines and include the drugs alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), midazolam (Versed) and lorazepam (Ativan).

Abuse of sedatives can cause symptoms such as drowsiness, difficulty thinking clearly, difficulty breathing, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, diarrhea, mood swings, erratic behavior and euphoria.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration classifies sedatives as a Schedule IV drug. This means they have addictive properties, but are not as addictive as medications belonging to earlier categories, such as Schedule II painkillers. However, there are many people in Kentucky who experience an addiction to these medications and require treatment to break their addictions.

Health risks from prolonged benzodiazepine use include confusion, slurred speech, muscle weakness, trouble with coordination and disorientation.

Treatments for sedative abuse include tapering dosages of a drug as per a physician’s recommendation. This can reduce the effects of withdrawal, which include nausea, intense cravings and muscle weakness.


Prescription stimulant medications include methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) and amphetamines (Adderall). These medications are most commonly used to treat those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. While stimulants may sound as if they would have the opposite effect, they actually cause those with ADHD to experience an increased sense of focus and calm. Those who abuse these medications sometimes use them to improve studying and school performance. Some people also abuse them to stay awake, suppress their appetites or to experience the euphoria that can come from crushing them and snorting or injecting them.

Signs a person may be abusing the drugs are unexplained weight loss, increased alertness, lack of fatigue and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, depression and difficulty sleeping.

Stimulants belong to the Schedule II drug category, making them highly addictive, yet having the potential for medical uses. Examples of effects from stimulant abuse include creating a constant cycle of use and withdrawal, which causes harmful symptoms. Also, if a person injects them, they are at increased risk for IV drug-related complications. These include increased risk for HIV and hepatitis.

Treatments for stimulant abuse are similar to those of sedatives. A doctor can recommend a tapering plan that can minimize withdrawal symptoms and help a person learn how to become less dependent upon the drug.

If you or someone you love suffers from Kentucky prescription drug addiction, you are not alone. There are experts in Kentucky who can help you overcome this addiction and experience a new life, free from the chains of addiction. Contact an addiction specialist today and discover how sobriety can save your life.