By Erica Kearns
The Mountain State is losing more and more people to a pestilence of drug abuse. The Trust for America’s Health released a report earlier this week that found West Virginia has the highest drug overdose rate in the country.
The rate of overdoses in West Virginia has quadrupled in the past ten years, with the highest drug overdose mortality rate in the nation at 28.9 per 100,000 people suffering drug overdose fatalities. That’s a 605% increase in drug overdose deaths in our home state since 1999.
The ease of access to prescription drugs may partially be to blame for this epidemic. Drugs of choice in rural West Virginia tend to be Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Xanax and Ritalin. The more medication that is being prescribed, the more abuse will take place.
“We see particularly high rates of sales of Oxycontin in coal mining areas, West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, which tend to be places with high concentrations of people with back problems and other chronic pain,” explained Rich Hamburg, the Deputy Director of the Trust for America’s Health. “We see higher rates in areas of more poverty. We see higher rates in more rural areas.”
Although prescriptions are often obtained through family doctors, pill mills or internet orders, the majority of abusers are not the one who is prescribed the drug in the first place. “Fifty-five percent of those who have had prescription drug abuse problems have received them from friends and family,” explained Hamburg. “So we are talking about just going to your parents’ bathroom and grabbing a handful of pills that they might have forgotten about.”
West Virginia is making strong efforts to curb the problem and has implemented a prescription drug monitoring program. The Trust for America’s Health study ranked each state based on a set of ten indicators of strategies being used to help curb the epidemic. West Virginia scored 8/10, indicating that an effort is being made to impact the ever growing prescription drug problem.
Key indicators for healing include education, responsible prescribing practices, safe storage of prescriptions and, most importantly, treatment. Only one in 10 Americans with a substance abuse disorder receives treatment.

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