The Richmond Register

October 26, 2013

Coroner: Heroin is an epidemic in Madison County

EKU student died from overdose last month

By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — “Our children are dying, it’s as simple as that.”

Coroner and EMS director Jimmy Cornelison knows first-hand what kills people in his community, and Madison County has not been left out of the heroin epidemic sweeping the state.

A heroin overdose caused the death of an Eastern Kentucky College student last month, Cornelison told the crowd at the “Heroin in the Headlines” workshop Thursday in Richmond.

He handled another overdose death of a woman two weeks ago.

The conference, at which several local, state and federal officials and experts spoke, was sponsored by the Madison County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.

“Heroin has no boundaries,” Cornelison said, adding that unlike some of the past outbreaks of increased heroin use, people of all backgrounds are using the drug.

Cornelison, along with law enforcement officials at the workshop, directly linked the crackdown on “pill mills” and pain pill dealers in Kentucky to the upswing in heroin use.

Heroin is cheaper than buying opiate pills on the street, officials said.

Another difference with the latest heroin epidemic is the drug is being sold in a more pure form, which is leading to people injecting higher doses as their tolerance quickly builds.

Cornelison said addicts often will be incarcerated for a short time, and dry out from the drug. However, when they get out of jail, usually on bond while awaiting trial, they will immediately go back to the same heroin dosage they took before they were jailed. That often leads to accidental overdoses.

As EMS director, Cornelison is focused on saving lives, and one thing that can mean the difference between life or death during an overdose is a drug called naloxone (marketed as Narcan).

“We have a lot of success with it,” Cornelison said.

One injection can immediately counteract the life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system caused by opiate overdose.

Cornelison said police officers may start carrying the drug to more quickly render aid in heroin overdose calls.

The Kentucky General Assembly also passed a law last year that allows doctors to prescribe naloxone to a third-party person who can administer it to an overdose victim. Some pharmacies have begun selling naloxone rescue kits that people can keep in their homes.

Cornelison said keeping an adequate supply of the drug for the Madison County EMS is becoming difficult because heroin overdoses are becoming more common.

“It is an epidemic,” he said.

Sarah Hogsed can be reached at shogsed@richmondregister.com or 624-6694.