This month the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy (KYODCP) released a report on the number of fatal overdoses in Kentucky during 2017. The 2017 Overdose Fatality Report was compiled with data from the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office, the Kentucky Injury Prevention & Research Center and the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics. The report is full of bad news for Louisville and the citizens of the Commonwealth. Overdose deaths increased another 11 ½% last year to 1565 fatalities for the state setting a new record. Concurrently, overdoses in Louisville increased 14 ½% to 426 deaths. These
preventable deaths are not only tragic, but they also put a tremendous strain on the healthcare and criminal justice systems. Fatalities have increased every year for the last five years. Fatal overdoses totaled 1007 in 2013, 1088 in 2014, 1248 in 2015, 1404 in 2016, and 1565 last year. This upward trend is disheartening.
"We are in a crisis state," Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said. "While we are putting money at it and while we are drawing attention to it, until we start to truly address this and look at underlying causes of these things and what is leading to this it is not going to be addressed."
Clearly our state is moving in the wrong direction, but that’s not the case in every state in the country. States that allow legal cannabis access have seen significant decreases in fatal overdoses in the first year, up to 24%, after cannabis reform, and those decreases have been the greatest in states that have embraced full legalization to allow over-the-counter sales of cannabis to adults. Cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, opioid-related traffic fatalities, opioid-related drug treatment admissions, and opioid-related overdose deaths.
"Most of the things we do we realize are not going to take that immediate effect," said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. "It just never gets any easier."
The same old policies that have been enacted in the past aren’t working. It’s obvious that Kentucky needs to adopt new drug policies and that will likely
require personnel changes at the KYODCP and as well as some of our elected officials.
Louisville is a basketball town and Kentucky is a basketball state. We understand that the best strategy to win is the full-court press, that’s the strategy we’re employing and we’re calling on the citizens of the commonwealth to join us. We’ve adopted a local, state and federal strategy to legalize safe cannabis. Earlier this year, the Louisville Metro Council passed a resolution in support of medical cannabis. Three councilpersons, Angela Leet, Bill Hollander, and Vicki Aubrey Welch organized three town hall meetings on medical cannabis and they found overwhelming support for change in our community. Fourteen other municipalities in Kentucky passed similar resolutions, including Lexington, Henderson, Perryville and Maysville. Despite all these efforts, the state legislature again failed to embrace legislation that would protect some of the sickest citizens in the commonwealth and turn the tide on our disgraceful epidemic of fatal drug poisonings. It’s shameful, but we’re not giving up; we’re doubling down and putting on the full-court press.
Going forward we plan on pushing for a lowest law enforcement priority ordinance (LLEPO) for cannabis possession in the city of Louisville and we urge cannabis activists to introduce similar ordinances in their cities as well. Cities across the country have led the way in changing policies for their states. Some cities have the authority to decriminalize cannabis possession and others have directed the local police force to make cannabis possession the lowest law enforcement priority. We will originally introduced the LLEPO for Louisville on Thursday, August 9 at the regular meeting of the Louisville Metro Council. We have three great speakers, including myself, to address the Council on the need for this next step in pressuring the state to change the law. We will be returning to voice our support for the ordinance and if you’re available on Thursday, August 23 at 6:00 PM please join us at the Louisville Metro Council meeting at 600 W. Jefferson and help support our efforts.
We live in a world where whiskey, pharmaceutical drugs, shotguns, assault rifles, fast cars and huge trucks are all legal. When compared to all of these legal things, cannabis just isn’t dangerous enough to require this tight of control. Four years ago I wrote the LEO a letter in response to Kentucky’s prescription monitoring program and the “increased penalties for drug dealer’s” legislation. These policies haven’t had any effect and they’ve actually made our drug problem worse. Cannabis prohibition is a mistake and our legislators are coming around. Slowly. But we have to keep the full-court pressure on them if we are to expect any real change in our cannabis laws for the citizens of our Commonwealth.
Tom Rector Jr.
Communications Director, Kentucky National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (KY NORML)