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Kentucky’s Most Commonly Abused Drugs

by Landmark Recovery

September 24, 2020


Sadly, Kentucky has one of the highest overdose death rates in the country.


In 2018, 989 people died from a drug overdose, one of the fifth highest rates of all states. However, this was a huge reduction in comparison to 2017 which saw 1,160 people die from a drug overdose.


Thankfully, the overdose antidote Naloxone has saved many lives, but it’s not a cure and it’s not getting to the root of the drug crisis.


Unfortunately, the number of overdose deaths in 2020 has risen by 5% in Kentucky. The lockdown measures imposed during the pandemic have isolated people and caused a spike in overdose deaths.


20 years ago, marijuana was the most commonly abused illicit drug in Kentucky. However, since the marketing rules were relaxed in the 1990s, Kentucky has been mauled especially hard by the opioid crisis.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the following occurred between 2017 and 2018:


  • Prescription opioid deaths decreased from 433 to 315
  • Deaths from heroin overdose decreased from 269 to 140
  • But, deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanyl stayed stable with a high rate of 744 deaths


Synthetic opioids and prescription opioids are the largest cause of overdose deaths in Kentucky.


Opioids are dangerous as they can cause seizures and slow the breathing right down to the point of suffocation and death.


Prescription Opioids

Many people become hooked on prescription opioids even though they have never experimented with drugs. Painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin are highly addictive, but some find they are the only medicine that soothes their chronic pain.


Sadly, because prescription drugs are so expensive and access to them is limited, many people turn to street heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanyl to ease pain and withdrawal symptoms.


Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanyl are the most commonly abused drugs in Kentucky.


Fentanyl is similar to anti-anxiety medication Xanax. It is highly addictive and dangerous. It’s also used to bulk out other drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. Many street drugs sold on the street contain fentanyl as it’s cheap and potent.


It’s not just synthetic opioids that are responsible for the high death rates. Overdose deaths are typically the result of multiple drugs, not just opioids.


Drug cartels are driving the horrendous rate of overdose deaths. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanyl are cheap to make, and they can be made using chemicals rather than having to source opium poppies to produce natural heroin.



Whilst the country has been preoccupied with the opioid crisis, the drug cartels have capitalized on this and started creating superlabs to produce meth.


Kentucky has seen a surge in methamphetamine overdoses in addition to the high rate of opioid overdoses.


Methamphetamine is a remarkably addictive substance. The high is so powerful that the minute someone comes down from meth, they immediately start seeking more.


Meth 2.0 is a newer type of methamphetamine that drug cartels are now producing. The earlier type of meth was made on a smaller scale and was more expensive. Meth 2.0 is more powerful and even cheaper than ever.


In some ways, meth is more dangerous than opioids, because there is no medication-assisted treatment available to ease withdrawal symptoms. Also, meth typically triggers a more rapid downfall than opioids.



While methamphetamine and opioids are most prevalently abused in Kentucky, cocaine is also widely misused.


Unfortunately, due to the high content of fentanyl in cocaine, cocaine overdose deaths are on the rise. Fentanyl is so potent, it can cause seizures and respiratory arrest. People who use cocaine are not aware that it’s more often laced with fentanyl nowadays.



Alcohol is widely abused due to being socially acceptable and legal for over-21s to purchase and drink.


Unfortunately, coronavirus and its knock-on effects have led more people to drink heavily as a means of coping with stress.


Like all addictions, alcohol use disorder is a progressive disease that leads to both mental and physical health problems. It can even be fatal.


Alcohol can cause:

  • Anxiety
  • Cancer
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Injuries
  • Liver problems
  • Stroke


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the safe limit for women is 1 standard drink a day, and for men 2 standard drinks. This equates to 12oz beer (5% alcohol), 8oz malt liquor (7% alcohol), 5oz wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5oz spirits (40% alcohol).


That said, many people tend to binge drink without necessarily being dependent on alcohol.



Marijuana is illegal in Kentucky, although the State is considering legalizing medical marijuana. Medical marijuana contains high levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and trace levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the psychoactive element, and it’s beneficial for people with:


  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors from Parkinson’s


People tend to smoke marijuana to get high from the THC. Regrettably, this can trigger mental health issues in some users.


Marijuana was the most widely abused illicit substance in Kentucky around 20 years ago, but this has changed drastically due to the opioid and methamphetamine crisis.


What To Do Next

If you’re drinking or using drugs to excess and you want your old life back, we can help you out.


Call the friendly admissions team at Landmark Recovery on 888-448-0302. Whatever substance you’re struggling with, our structured residential rehab or intensive outpatient programs can help you get back on track. We’re also here to support you through your ongoing recovery so get in touch today.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.