West Virginia garners the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the U.S., said in a report released this week, spotlighting Appalachia’s rotten drug abuse problem in one of the nation’s poorest regions.
There are 34 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 West Virginia residents from 2011 to 2013, increasing from 22 deaths per 100,000 people in 2007to 2009, said the report released Wednesday by the nonprofit groups Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health.
West Virginia’s drug overdose death rate has doubled the national average, the report cited. It discovered that West Virginia’s rate far exceeds the second-highest state, New Mexico, which has at 28.2 deaths per 100,000. The national average was 13.4.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin in Charleston said, “It’s more than disappointing. It’s devastating. Can I say that I’m shocked? I’m not, because I know the depth of this problem.”
Dr. Rahul Gupta, the state health officer from West Virginia’s said, “The reasons why vary, but they are intertwined.”
He pointed the disadvantaged region’s history of poor education and the isolation of communities and people and in its rugged mountainous terrain. Although there are programs for substance abuse, it is still growing, and services may seems hard to reach and far away.
Those factors drive West Virginia to the bottom of many other health and quality of life indicators, Gupta stated.
“Whether it’s drug use, whether it’s mental health, it’s physical health, a number of those things are going hand-in-hand,” said Gupta.
Gupta said West Virginia has witnessed 3,000 drug overdose deaths in the past five years, an average of 600 per year.
While police attempted to trim down the supply side of illegal drugs with at least 406 drug-related arrests in Huntington this year, the Ohio River county of 97,000 residents have also turned to addiction treatment programs.
“The drug problem is our No. 1 problem. We’re a community that’s hitting it head on. We’re not trying to sweep it under the table. We’re trying to be aggressive,” said Jim Johnson, the city of Huntington’s director of drug control policy.
The drug woes in West Virginia’s reflect a national trend.