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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Overdose Deaths Plague West Virginia

A new report, conducted by the nonprofit groups Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the U.S., the Associated Press reports. From 2011 through 2013 there were 34 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 in West Virginia - far surpassing New Mexico, which has the second highest rate. The rate of drug overdose deaths in West Virginia is more than double the national average.

In recent years, the Appalachian region has struggled with the opioid drug epidemic. The heightened use has led to a dramatic increase in infectious disease transmission, such as Hepatitis C. Currently, West Virginia has zero operating needle exchange programs, but plans to open some in the future.

"It's more than disappointing. It's devastating," said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin in Charleston. "Can I say that I'm shocked? I'm not, because I know the depth of this problem."

The reasons for the crisis in West Virginia are problems that are symptomatic for the region. The state’s health officer, Dr. Rahul Gupta, stated that while the causes are varied, they are intertwined, according to the article. Gupta cites:
  • Poor Education
  • Isolated Communities
  • Limited Treatment Options
  • Available Services are Hard to Reach
"Whether it's drug use, whether it's mental health, it's physical health, a number of those things are going hand-in-hand," Gupta said.

What’s happening in West Virginia is not an isolated event; the surrounding states have been hit hard as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that there has been a 364 percent increase in Hepatitis C infections in:
  • Kentucky
  • West Virginia
  • Virginia
  • Tennessee
There is a clear and present need for increased access to clean needles, as well as more treatment options. Without help, more and more people will continue to suffer throughout the region.

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