Despite the relatively high ranking, the overall numbers represent a significant decrease in opioid prescriptions in the county and state.
The study examines the rate of morphine equivalent doses per capita sold at retail pharmacies in 2010 and 2015 and compares the change over that five-year period. The study does not account for people who live in one county but fill their prescription in another, so there may be some variance in smaller counties, such as McCreary, where many may get their prescription filled in another location.
According to the study morphine equivalent doses, which are measured in milligrams, are used by health care providers to better determine how potent one opioid is when compared to another.
The study found McCreary County ranked 40th in Kentucky with 1,034.1 doses per person in 2015. That number represents a 27 percent decrease from 2010 when 1,407.6 doses per person were prescribed.
McCreary is one of 71 counties that saw an overall decrease of more than 10 percent. 19 counties saw an increase and 24 remained stable.
Whitley County was ranked the highest on the list, with 2,340.5 doses per person prescribed in 2015, which still represents a 22 percent decrease for that county. Other regional counties in the top quartile include Leslie (3rd), Clinton (8th) and Wayne (30th). Both Leslie and Wayne counties saw a 9 percent increase over the past five years the study found.
The Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system (KASPER), which had changed to requiring pharmacies to mandatory reporting during the course of the study has helped the overall decline, the study said.
According to the report: “The substantial variation in opioid prescribing observed at the county level suggests inconsistent practice patterns and a lack of consensus about appropriate opioid use, and demonstrates the need for better application of guidance and standards around opioid prescribing practices.”
The report stated counties with higher amounts of opioids prescribed tended to have “a larger percentage of non-Hispanic whites; higher rates of uninsured and Medicaid enrollment, lower educational attainment; higher rates of unemployment; micropolitan status [counties with towns of 10,000 to 50,000]; more dentists and physicians per capita; a higher prevalence of diagnosed diabetes, arthritis, and disability; and higher suicide rates.”
McCreary County Sheriff Randy Waters says opioid prescription abuse, while still an issue locally, is not as simple as people getting prescriptions for self-use.
“Most of the prescription pill abuse we see comes from drug users who either buy the pills illegally, or steal them from another person,” Waters said.
“We are starting to see more influx of opioids and harder drugs,” the Sheriff said. “But the majority of our drug-related cases still revolve around methamphetamine and street-level drugs.”
The Sheriff attended a meeting with Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear last week in Somerset where he was able to speak directly to the state’s leading law enforcement officer about the problems he sees every day.
Beshear spoke to a group of citizens and law enforcement personnel at the Somerset First Baptist Church and outlined his four-prong mission his office has undertaken since being elected.
One facet of his plan is to find working solutions to Kentucky’s drug problem, particularly targeting doctors who over prescribe addictive pills to Kentucky residents – creating a dependence cycle that leads to more abuse.
“I spoke with the Attorney General about our drug problems here in McCreary County,” Waters said. “I talked about our economy and how we need to find ways to help fight the resale of these pills and to make penalties stronger for trafficking offenses.”
“I know the county, and the state, are burdened with high costs of prosecution and incarceration, but something needs to be done at the state level to help smaller counties like ours deal with that cost.”