Contributing Factors in Kentucky’s Opioid Epidemic

By: Sydney Smith, EKU clinical psychology doctoral student

The opioid epidemic that is gripping Eastern, Kentucky by the throat does not appear to be relenting.  This epidemic is being fueled by a number of social and economic factors as well as an abundant supply of opiates. Opiate addiction often begins by accident after an injury or surgery when an individual takes prescription painkillers that are prescribed to relieve pain.  Dependence on these medications can occur over short periods of time and patients who progress to addiction often continue to seek these medications after treatment ends in order to help stave off symptoms of withdrawal. 

Other factors, such as a decline in the coal mining industry have left many without jobs and in a state of hopelessness and loss. Individuals in this situation who go on to develop an opiate addiction often do so as a means of escape or to feel better about their situation.

The social factors that have contributed to the opiate epidemic have been exacerbated by an influx of opiates into the Eastern Kentucky region.  There has been a 300% increase in prescription painkillers in the area since 1999 (Spangler, 2016).  This problem has been further compounded by an influx of cheap heroin into the state and the fact that 76% of healthcare shortage areas occur in rural America (Spangler, 2016) which leads to fewer available treatment options for substance use disorders and mental health conditions. 

Are national pharmaceutical distributors and prescribers to blame for this opiate epidemic or is it the illegal drugs many have turned to due to the high costs of prescription opioids?  The bottom line is that no one knows.  We, however, need more resources and treatment providers throughout this region to provide the support the individuals and families need to get back on their feet.

Spangler, H. (2016). Sec. Vilsack: Opioid addiction in rural America — what can be done. Southwest Farm Press, 43(20), 18-19.

Published on April 13, 2018