Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 9, 2013

Overdose deaths: More alarming news for W.Va.

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The Mountain State now leads the nation in the rate of fatal drug overdoses, and the overdose death rate is six times higher than it was about a decade ago, according to a new report.

The findings from the Trust for America’s Health report 28.9 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2010 in West Virginia, and the majority of those involved prescription drugs. That’s 605 percent higher than in 1999 when the fatal overdose rate was just 4.1 per 100,000 people, the Associated Press reported.

The other states in the top three were New Mexico, with 23.8 per 100,000 people, and Kentucky with 23.6.

Given the region’s rampant prescription drug abuse problem, we are not necessarily surprised by the findings of this new study. However, being ranked first in the nation for fatal overdoses is an alarming development.

The report does give the Mountain State high marks for trying to tackle the plague of prescription drug abuse, noting the state is using eight of 10 promising strategies to curb prescription drug abuse.

But the study suggests that only two strategies are working: Good Samaritan laws that offer immunity or lighter sentencing for people who are trying to help themselves or others from overdosing; and a rescue-drug law that would give lay people access to naloxone, a drug that can be used to counteract an overdose.

“It is absolutely the biggest crime problem in my district,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, chief federal prosecutor in southern West Virginia, told the AP Monday. “It’s also the biggest public health problem. And it drives so many other aspects of our crime problem.”

Addicts need to get high, so they break into homes to steal either drugs from the medicine cabinet or money to buy them from someone else, Goodwin says. And more than 70 percent of the drugs currently being abused are coming from friends and family — not street dealers, Goodwin adds.

To help curb the supply, area localities hold regular drug take-back days to help people safely dispose of medications. The drug take-back days, which are held in both Mercer and McDowell counties, have been successful, and should continue.

However, additional efforts and programs will be needed to reverse the findings of this troubling new study.

 The report from the Trust for America’s Health should be viewed as a call to action to those both in the law enforcement and community advocacy fields. Efforts to combat the state’s prescription drug abuse problem should be doubled.

And all efforts must be made to reverse the deadly trend of prescription drug overdoses in our region. Being ranked first in the nation for overdose deaths is not a statistic that we should be proud of.