Mercer County leading in drug-related deaths

The report, released by the West Virginia Division of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities claims that Mercer County tops the list of companies in the category of morbidity rates for drug-related diagnosis per 10,000 discharges.

According to the DHHR’s Bureau for Health, Mercer County had 859 deaths per 10,000 discharges, compared to the state average of 506.5, inthe year 2012. In the previous period of 2006-2010, Mercer County ranked 6th in drug related mortality per 100,000 discharges with 47.5 compared to the state average for the same period of 26.8. The report is dated February 2014.

“I watch those statistics closely, and I knew we were running neck and neck with New Mexico,” Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash said after learning of the information contained in the Associated Press report. “It is a statewide problem.”

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported on a study which was released by nonprofit groups, Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, indicating that drug overdoses in West Virginia have elevated sharply in the 2011-’13 reporting period to 34 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, up from the 22 drug overdose deaths in the 2007-09 reporting period.

The AP cited statistics from the CDC stating that West Virginia’s drug overdose rate surpasses the second highest state, New Mexico that has 28.2 death per 100,000, according to the CDC. The national average is 13.4, per 100,000 according to the AP.

Ash said that from Huntington to the north, the drug of choice appears to be heroin. “That’s a problem because users never really know how much the drug has been cut before they get it,” Ash said.

“In the southern counties, the drug of choice seems to be synthesized morphine — dilaudid,” Ash said. “I don’t get the sense that it’s changing.”

Ash said that two weeks ago, he posted information on his Facebook page as of April 28, indicating that at a (then) rate of 28.9 per 100,000 death rate for drug overdoses, the total is greater than the 19.8 per 100,000 death rate in vehicle crashes and the 3.4 per 100,000 in cases of murder.

Ash praised U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia, for “going after the pill slingers,” and for bringing the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas support to the area helps, but he added that law enforcement alone won’t eliminate the problem.

“It’s a supply and demand issue,” he said. “If there is a demand for something, there will always be a supplier to come along and meet that demand as long as the money holds out.”

Ash said that State Police Superintendent Col. Jay Smithers spoke in Bluefield two years ago and said: “You can’t arrest your way out of this,” Ash said. “You have to keep the arrests up, but you also have to work on ways to reduce the demand.”

U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., announced on Wednesday that he fought to increase the budget for HIDTA from the president’s proposed $56.6 million to $260 million, and added that he pushed to fund the Drug-Free Communities Program with $95 million — up $10 million from President Obama proposed.

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