Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

April 22, 2014

Grim statistics: Overdose deaths still climbing

— — The latest statistics from the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities paint an alarming picture for southern West Virginia. The number of drug-related illnesses, and drug-overdose deaths, are still climbing — and at a troubling rate — in the coalfield counties, according to the new study. And the numbers are particularly troubling for Mercer and McDowell counties.

In McDowell County, the 2012 morbidity rates per 10,000 discharges (from hospitals and other health facilities) showed that the county had more than 747 cases of drug-related illnesses. In contrast, West Virginia as a whole had 506 per 10,000. McDowell County also ranked third in the state for drug-related illnesses.

McDowell County also ranked first in the state for drug-overdose deaths — an alarming statistic that demands a community response. During the period between 2006 and 2010, the mortality rate in McDowell County was approximately 94 per 100,000 people. In comparison, the state as a whole had approximately 27 deaths per 100,000 people, according to state statistics.

The situation isn’t much better for Mercer County.

For morbidity in 2012, Mercer County had a rate of 859 cases per 10,000 medical care cases. And in terms of drug overdoses, Mercer County reported 48 deaths per 100,000 in population, making the county sixth in West Virginia for overdose deaths. And, once again, that ranking is unacceptable.

Mercer County also is reporting the highest levels of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C rates per capita in West Virginia, along with high rates of HIV, according to Greg Puckett, executive director of Community Connections.

And Puckett correctly notes that drug abuse also fuels problems such as unwanted pregnancies and higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

All of these statistics are unacceptable. And they must be viewed as a call to action for our region as a whole.

We know our region has a drug problem. It is a significant and rampant problem. And this epidemic is affecting all aspects of society. It is a plague and a blight on our region that requires the immediate attention of all community stakeholders. This includes everyone from those law enforcement and health care officials who are on the front line of the war on drugs to locally elected county commissioners and state and federal lawmakers who control the purse strings that can help combat this scourge.

Simply choosing to ignore this problem — or pretending that it doesn’t exist — is not acceptable. All community stakeholders should be working together in a unified approach to address these alarming statistics.

 

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