News, Culture & Society

West Virginia records 872 overdoses last year

West Virginia’s death toll from drug overdoses has improved slightly, with 872 deaths last year.

The state hit a grim record in 2016 of 887 fatal overdoses, or 52 per 100,000 residents, the highest drug-related death toll in the nation.

Public Health Commissioner Dr Rahul Gupta says he’s cautiously optimistic about progress.

West Virginia is taking action with new laws to limit painkiller prescriptions, improve overdose reporting and equip all emergency responders with opioid antidotes.

West Virginia hit a grim record in 2016 of 887 fatal overdoses, or 52 per 100,000 residents, the highest drug-related death toll in the nation. Last year that dropped to 872

The health commission report describes how fatal overdoses soared from just 212 in 2001, initially driven by pharmaceuticals and then a shift to illicit heroin 2012, followed with more potent fentanyl being added to street drugs. 

The report says 750 of last year’s deaths involved at least one opiate, including 508 from fentanyl.

The news comes just days after the CDC revealed a 30 percent spike in the rate of overdoses cases reaching hospitals nationwide.

Overdoses increased in almost every state, with the Midwest seeing a particularly steep 70 percent rise between July 2016 and September 2017. 

It did not matter if people lived in rural or urban areas – overdoses rose in all kinds of cities and towns. 

The CDC’s new report urged state health departments to take actions like distributing more naloxone, improving access to drug-assisted addiction therapies and coordinating across state lines to combat the opioid epidemic. 

The American opioid epidemic claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016 alone. 

Addiction, overdoses and deaths have all been on a sharp incline in the last several years in the US, and the latest data suggests we are not past the worst. 

Health officials have been playing catch-up with the opioid epidemic all along, leaving many questioning how we got to the crisis point we’ve reached. 

Death certificate data gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) final numbers for the number of people killed by opioid epidemics, but this information takes time to make its way to the agency.  

In an effort to close that time gap, Congress allotted additional funds to the CDC in 2016 so that it could implement its enhanced monitoring program, collecting data from emergency rooms across the US. 

That money was distributed to 16 states that are now enrolled in the CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance Program.

The opioid crisis seemed to be worsening most quickly in Wisconsin, where 109 percent more people went to the emergency room for an overdose in September 2017 than did in July 2016. 

Half of the 16 states saw ‘significant’ increases – of 25 percent or greater – overdose visits during that time period.

The CDC also used looked at a second data set, from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) Biosense platform.  

The programs software collects data on more than 60 percent of all emergency room visits across the US in 45 states.  

Overdoses increased in all five regions of the US, and in every demographic.  

On the whole, the Midwest suffered the highest rates of overdose, with every state in the region reporting increases.