A Look At The West Virginia Opioid Epidemic

Published On: February 12, 2024|Categories: Addiction|
The flag of West Virginia blowing in a stiff breeze.

The opioid epidemic is not a new problem in the United States. It has been a long, ongoing process of attempting to undo the damage of over-prescribing and failing to appropriately regulate these addictive substances. Because of this previous lack of strict regulations and relatively easy accessibility, opioid use quickly grew out of control and caused significant harm in the States.

One state who suffered particularly from the opioid crisis was – and continues to be – West Virginia. When statistics emerged that WV was one of the highest states with opioid-related overdose deaths, it became apparent that immediate action was, without question, needed. 

Why is the opioid epidemic so bad in West Virginia?

West Virginia has a long history of employment in career fields like coal mining, which, in 1985, employed nearly 180,000 people nationwide. Less than ten years later, this industry cut its workforce in half, leaving hundreds of thousands of people unemployed. Part of the drug problem in West Virginia is notoriously connected to the unemployment rates as a result. 

However, another part of the problem lies in the marketing of prescription opioids to these past coal miners who suffered physically from the grueling nature of their jobs. 

According to one interview:

“You had a lot of former miners and families of miners with various aches, pains, and essentially broken bodies from supplying the nation with coal,’ said Sam Workman, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs at WVU and a native West Virginian. 

“The physical wear and tear laid the foundation for a broader crisis. As blue-collar jobs dried up, pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma started promoting new pain-relief medications like OxyContin

“Four years after it was introduced, the drug was being prescribed in some West Virginia counties nearly five times more than the national average.”

Between the unemployment rates of WV and the physical challenges facing their residents, combined with the untethered prescribing of opioid prescriptions, the opioid epidemic quickly raced out of control. 

Not only was this a concern for the individuals themselves who struggled with addiction, but it led to numerous problems in family life. Many children grew up in homes with addicted parents, causing the cycle of addiction to continue within families. Heartbreakingly, West Virginia ranks as a top state for grandparents raising their grandchildren as a result of drug addicted parents.

What are the numbers? 

So just how bad are the opioid epidemic statistics in West Virginia? 

  • Between 2020-2021 there were an estimated 1,519 drug overdose deaths in WV
  • According to one survey, West Virginia ranked worst in the states for “drug use, law enforcement involving drugs, and drug health issues…According to the ranking, West Virginia has the fourth most drug use and addiction in the country, and the third-worst law enforcement when it comes to drugs. Law enforcement includes the number of arrests, laws against drugs and laws requiring drug testing, not just police presence.”
  • West Virginia residents are some of the least likely to receive treatment for substance use disorders despite the ever-present problem of drug use
  • “In 2021, there were 1,253 opioid overdose deaths in West Virginia, which accounted for 83 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the state. Across the U.S., opioid overdose deaths accounted for 75 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the country in 2021.” 

It cannot be denied that the opioid epidemic has taken a significant toll on West Virginia, and continues to do so. For this reason, it is more important than ever to tighten the grip on prescription dispersal and provide awareness of the treatment options for opioid use disorder. 

Seeking help for opioid addiction in West Virginia?

While there is plenty of stigma and negative connotations surrounding the topic of addiction treatment, it is important to remember that for those battling opioid use disorder, addiction treatment may be the only way they can find secure, lasting freedom. 

With options like medically-assisted detox and treatment, cognitive behavior therapy and medication management, recovery is possible for our West Virginia residents. 

If you or a loved one are battling opioid use disorder and are ready to get the help you deserve, contact Pyramid Healthcare today by calling 888-461-7426 or by contacting us online to learn more. 

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