Report: Kansas documents 54% surge in drug overdose fatalities in early 2021

Preliminary assessment links nearly half 338 deaths to fentanyl

By: - January 6, 2022 9:23 am
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says Kansas experienced a 54% surge in drug overdose fatalities in the first six months of 2021 compared to that period in 2020. KDHE attributed about 45% of those deaths to ingestion of fentanyl, which is often added to other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. (Getty Images)

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says Kansas experienced a 54% surge in drug overdose fatalities in the first six months of 2021 compared to that period in 2020. KDHE attributed about 45% of those deaths to ingestion of fentanyl, which is often added to other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. (Getty Images)

TOPEKA — Preliminary reports indicate Kansas suffered a 54% increase in drug overdoses during the first six months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, state health officials said.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said provisional results not yet available to the public identified 338 people in Kansas who died of drug overdose between Jan. 1 and June 30 of last year. In that same six-month period in 2020, Kansas reported 220 fatalities from overdoses.

KDHE secretary Janet Stanek said resources were available to people dealing with drug addiction or abuse.

“Fatal drug overdoses have been on the rise for years across the country,” Stanek said. “The cause for the rise in deaths is complex and is a reflection of an individuals social determinants of health. We want all Kansans to know that there are resources available to those with a substance abuse disorder.”

Of the 338 deaths in Kansas in the first half of 2021, 149 involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogs. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid frequently combined with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA. This cocktail is especially risky when people don’t know if they’re consuming fentanyl or don’t have precise information on how much fentanyl was added to the other drugs.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says fentanyl is similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. Is is typically used by doctors to care for patients in severe pain, especially following surgery.

In addition, the mid-year report on Kansas said, 149 of the fatalities involved methamphetamine and 40 were linked to other drugs, such as cocaine, benzodiazepines and prescription opioids.

The statistics on Kansas were drawn from preliminary reporting to the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System, or SUDORS, administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention. SUDORS combines information from death certificates, medical examiner and coroner reports, and law enforcement documents to gather insight into overdose deaths.

Visit PreventOverdoseKS.org for resources, epidemiological data and information on Kansas’ efforts to prevent drug overdose. Those in need of assistance can call Kansas’ SUD hotline at 866-645-8216 or visit FindTreatment.gov to locate treatment services.

Pharmacies offering naloxone, a medication capable of reversing an opioid overdose, can be found at ktracs.ks.gov/pharmacists/naloxone-dispensing. Under Kansas law, KDHE says, pharmacists can legally dispense naloxone to patients without a prescription.

The Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services provides grant funding to DCCCA to operate a naloxone program. DCCCA has a limited supply of naloxone kits for people unable to access the medication through a pharmacy.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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