LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nearly 2,000 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses in 2020, an increase of 49% from the year before, according to a report from the Office of Drug Control Policy.
Fentanyl was involved in approximately 71% of all overdose deaths that year, including 417 in Jefferson County, the report shows.
The Louisville-based Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition has launched a program to send fentanyl test strips through the mail.
The agency attempted to pivot to mail-based distribution, due in part to the pandemic, said Erica Williams-Archie, the coalition’s executive administrator.
“It is more important now because they have adulterated all of the substances, all drugs, marijuana, cocaine, meth,” said Williams-Archie. “If you don’t know that there’s fentanyl in the drug supply, then it could kill you instantly.”
There’s an online form to request the strips and the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.
“It’s always our hope that they’ll test it, they’ll see the fentanyl and possibly not use it,” said Williams-Archie. “But it is an expectation that they will use it. But with knowing that there’s fentanyl in it, then you can cater your use toward that, so you can possibly not use as much.”
Jeremy Byard is the founder of the Louisville Recovery Community Connection.
Harm reduction is about keeping people safe and alive, he said.
“There’s a lot of folks out there that think that fentanyl test strips enable or encourage drug use, and it’s quite the opposite,” he said. “We want people to be safe.”
Williams-Archie has a personal connection to her work. Her mother had a substance use disorder before she died of cancer, she said.
“You have that firsthand experience of how it affects everyone, not just the person who utilizes drugs, how it affects the family,” said Williams-Archie.
For her, the work couldn’t be more important: lives are at stake.
“We value everyone and we want to make it so that they know that resources are available to them.”
Earlier this year, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined 16 other states in a letter urging the State Department to take a tougher stance to stop the influx of fentanyl into the country.