LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The pandemic is still with us in more ways than one.
The opioid epidemic is rising to new heights, not only across the country but here in Kentuckiana.
Recovery organizations in Kentuckiana told WHAS11 what we've heard for two years now - the pandemic has exacerbated this problem.
Newly released CDC data predicts more than 100,000 overdose deaths across the country last year. That's a nearly 15% increase from 2020.
In Kentucky, the CDC reports nearly 2,400, or a 14% increase from 2020.
Across the river in Indiana, the CDC estimates nearly 2,800 deaths, an increase of about 21%.
Phil Stucky, executive director of Thrive, a recovery community based in Scott County, Indiana, and Karyn Hascal, president of The Healing Place in Louisville, said they’re disheartened at the alarming number, but not surprised.
"People were out of work. They were frustrated,” Hascal said. “They were angry, and those are all perfect triggers for someone to use drugs or alcohol as a solution."
They also said the prevalence of fentanyl, disguised by other drugs, is killing people at alarming rates - sometimes the victims dying the very first time they take drugs.
Stucky recalled a very recent death involving fentanyl.
"I was just talking to some of my staff members yesterday and they had somebody they had been working with, and come to find out that person sent a text message to the family members and said, 'hey, this is going to be the last time I use. I'm going to get help tomorrow,' and they ended up overdosing,” he said.
Stucky said the numbers across the country are unacceptable, but he knows they’ll continue to increase.
"It's really hard to just jump back to normal with the population that uses illicit drugs,” Stucky said.
Hascal said predicting when they'll level out is nearly impossible.
"We're in uncharted territory now and I think in our business it's really difficult and dangerous to project and believe at some point this is going to subside,” Hascal said.
For now, they both said the focus should be on reducing stigma so people can seek recovery, education and intervention.
Stucky said a new narcan vending machine is coming to Scott Memorial Hospital this week. The machines dispense free doses of the overdose-reversing tool. The machine at Scott Memorial is one of 19 being installed across Indiana.