West Virginia has the highest drug overdose mortality rate

Fred Pace fpace@civitasmedia.com

October 25, 2013

MADISON — In 2011, Boone County ranked second in West Virginia’s 55 counties — only behind Wyoming County for the highest drug overdose mortality rate in the state.

Prescription drug abuse affects all of us,” said Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Keith Randolph. “None of us are immune. We all know a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker that is directly affected by this horrible epidemic.”

Even worse, West Virginia has the highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States, with 28.9 per 100,000 people suffering drug overdose fatalities, according to a new report, Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic.

It seems as if every week that newspaper and other media across the state are reporting another illegal drug bust, overdose deaths or other directly- and indirectly-related illegal drug abuse stories.

The number of drug overdose deaths — a majority of which are from prescription drugs — in West Virginia increased by whopping 605 percent since 1999, when the rate was 4.1 per 100,000.

Nationally, rates have doubled in 29 states since 1999, quadrupled in four of these states and tripled in 10 more, according to the report.

“It is no longer simply a law enforcement problem,” Randolph explained. “Our drug prosecutions have nearly quadrupled since 2007, yet the problem remains.”

Randolph says it’s a community, county and regional problem.

“The criminal justice system, those in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, educators, governing bodies and the general public all must take an active role in addressing the prescription pill problem and the overdose deaths associated with it,” he said. “Knowing we are second in a state that is number one in the nation in overdose deaths should offend us all.”

The report also finds that West Virginia received eight out of 10 possible indicators of promising strategies to help curb prescription drug abuse, so it appears the state is doing several things to combat this growing epidemic.

Nationally, 28 states and Washington, D.C. scored six or less, with New Mexico and Vermont scoring the highest, with a 10, and South Dakota scoring the lowest with two out of 10.

According to the report by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), prescription drug abuse has quickly become a top public health concern, as prescription drug related deaths now outnumber those from heroin and cocaine combined, and drug overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle-related deaths in 29 states and Washington, D.C.

Misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers alone costs the country an estimated $53.4 billion a year in lost productivity, medical costs and criminal justice costs. The report also notes that, currently, only one in 10 Americans with a substance abuse disorder receives treatment.

“Prescription drugs can be a miracle for many, but misuse can have dire consequences. The rapid rise of abuse requires nothing short of a full-scale response — starting with prevention and education all the way through to expanding and modernizing treatment,” added Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. “There are many promising signs that we can turn this around, but it requires urgent action.”

In the Prescription Drug Abuse report, TFAH - in consultation with a number of public health, clinical, injury prevention, law enforcement and community organization experts - reviewed a range of national recommendations and examined a set of 10 indicators of strategies being used in states to help curb the epidemic.

“There are indications that some of these efforts and strategies may be having a positive impact — the number of Americans abusing prescription drugs decreased from seven million in 2010 to 6.1 in 2011, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” Levi said.

Prescription drug related deaths now outnumber those from heroin and cocaine combined, and drug overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle-related deaths in 29 states and Washington, D.C., according to the report.


Note: Rates include total drug overdose mortality rates, the majority of which are from prescription drugs. 1 = Highest rate of drug overdose fatalities, 51 = lowest rate of drug overdose fatalities. Rankings are based on data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, WONDER Online Database, 2010. The numbers are based on the number of people per 100,000.

1. West Virginia (28.9); 2. New Mexico (23.8); 3. Kentucky (23.6); 4.Nevada (20.7); 5. Oklahoma (19.4); 6.Arizona (17.5); 7. Missouri (17); 8. (tie) Tennessee and Utah (16.9); 10. Delaware (16.6); 11. Florida (16.4); 12. Ohio (16.1); 13. Rhode Island (15.5); 14. Pennsylvania (15.3); 15. Wyoming (15); 16. South Carolina (14.6); 17. Indiana (14.4); 18. Michigan (13.9); 19. Louisiana (13.2); 20. Washington (13.1); 21. (tie) District of Columbia and Montana and Oregon (12.9); 24. Colorado (12.7); 25. Arkansas (12.5); 26. (tie) Alabama and Idaho and New Hampshire (11.8); 29. Alaska (11.6); 30. (tie) Mississippi and North Carolina (11.4); 32. (tie) Maryland and Massachusetts (11); 34. (tie) Hawaii and Wisconsin (10.9); 36. Georgia (10.7); 37. California (10.6); 38. Maine (10.4); 39. Connecticut (10.1); 40. Illinois (10); 41. New Jersey (9.8); 42. Vermont (9.7); 43. (tie) Kansas and Texas (9.6); 45. Iowa (8.6); 46. New York (7.8); 47. Minnesota (7.3); 48.Virginia (6.8); 49. Nebraska (6.7); 50. South Dakota (6.3); 51. North Dakota (3.4).