A new national report shows Kentucky fares well compared to other states in the number of patients potentially misusing non-prescribed medications or abusing illegal drugs.

Kentucky, “which has long been known as an epicenter of the national prescription drug epidemic,” was “noticeably absent” from the top 10 worst performing states in each of three categories studied, according to the report, released December 17 by Ameritox, a leader in medication monitoring solutions.

Urine samples were collected from more than 400,000 patients to examine three specific areas of concern: (1) patients who were prescribed drugs but those drugs weren’t found; (2) evidence of drugs for which there was no prescription; and (3) the presence of one or more illicit drugs.

“Kentucky showed modest improvements in each of the three categories between 2012 and 2014,” the research report stated. By comparison, overall more patients on chronic opioid therapy tested positive for a drug not prescribed by their doctor or for an illicit drug than two years ago.

“Treating pain is a major challenge in our society, and so is the potential for misuse of prescription medications and the abuse of illicit drugs,” said Scott Walton, CEO of Ameritox. “We need a concerted, dynamic approach – one that uses monitoring and additional insights at the clinical level – to address this problem.”

The report showed that Kentucky:

• Ranked 36th for “prescribed drug not found” at 23.7% of samples.

• Ranked 35th for “non-prescribed drug found” at 30.3% of samples.

• Ranked 22nd for “one or more illicit drugs found” at 11.9% of samples. Marijuana (78%), cocaine (16.7%) and heroin (4.6%) were the most common substances detected among the samples testing positive.

Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said the report indicates state efforts to address this national epidemic are working.

“The strategies we have implemented in Kentucky are having a positive effect,” Ingram said. “Cautious prescribing, use of prescription monitoring systems and drug disposal are just some of the strategies that are having an impact on Kentucky’s prescription drug problems.”

There were 980 Kentucky resident drug overdose deaths in 2013, a 5% decrease from 1,032 deaths in 2012, according to the Kentucky Safety and Alignment Network. Drugs and medications – over-the-counter, prescription drugs and illicit drugs – were the underlying cause of death for 94.5% of all poisoning deaths in the state.

“It’s a validation that our treatment and education initiatives are working,” noted Dan Smoot, president and CEO of Operation UNITE, which has been dealing with prescription drug problems in southern and eastern Kentucky since 2003.

UNITE’s unique three-pronged approach to curbing prescription drug abuse and diversion – through law enforcement, treatment and education initiatives – has been heralded at many levels, including the White House. In addition, UNITE organizes an annual National Rx Drug Abuse Summit that is the largest national collaboration of professionals impacted by prescription drug abuse.

“Our success is due, in part, to state officials making prescription drug abuse a priority,” Smoot stated. “Through legislative action and support of programs such as Recovery Kentucky and Drug Courts, we’ve come leaps and bounds from the destructive spiral we were on just a decade ago.”

“Is there still work to be done? Absolutely,” Smoot said. “But, this positive report reflects that we’re moving in the right direction.”