The efforts that KIPRC and the state have made to improve this data have led to crucial findings, including that Kentucky’s crisis isn’t one crisis, but many. Different parts of the state are afflicted with different drugs. Northern Kentucky, for example, has a high prevalence of heroin and fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that is more deadly than heroin and other types of opioids — while in the eastern part of the state, prescription opioids are still the main concern.

To better understand what drugs were killing people and where, the center built a “drug overdose fatality surveillance system” (which goes by DOFSS) that combines several data sources, including death certificate information, post-mortem toxicology analysis and the prescription drug history of victims. “We’re not doing this for the sake of research,” said Svetla Slavova, a biostatistician working with KIPRC. “We provide actionable data for policymaking, treatment and prevention. We’re trying to be responsive and provide data that will help make these decisions.”