West Virginia Is Losing A Staggering Number Of People To Drug Overdose

The American South has been hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis, and aded economic and social stressors at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic have only worsened the issue, as the AP reports. One such example is West Virginia, where overdose deaths, though high, declined somewhat in 2019, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. In 2018, less than 1,000 people died form an overdose in the state, a number down slightly from the previous year. Those gains were reversed beginning in 2020, and that troubling trend continues as of this report. An estimated 1,500 residents of West Virginia, in fact, are expected to die from drug overdose-related causes in 2022. That's an estimated 3% increase from the year prior, based on provisional data from the CDC

The root causes of the overdose epidemic are complex in West Virginia and all across the U.S., with few economic opportunities and growing social isolation in rural areas among the most common, according to the Mayo Clinic. On that note, an estimated 17% of all West Virginians live in poverty, according to World Population Review. That number puts West Virginia second only to Mississippi in terms of poverty among all southern states, based on WPR data. As the graph below clearly indicates, drug overdose-related death in West Virginia shot up at the onset of the pandemic. There are some encouraging signs for the state as of mid-2022, though, with progress made by West Virginia's elected officials and healthcare professionals to address the issue (via West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy).

West Virginia's economic woes likely worsen the overdose issues

As can be seen in the graph above, CDC data shows that roughly 55 West Virginians per 100,000 residents died from drug overdose-related causes as of March 2020 before shooting up to an alarming 95 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents as of July, 2022. That number seems to have plateaued. In roughly that same time frame a bit more than 100,000 residents died from an overdose nationwide, also according to provisional data from the CDC. Rural areas are particularly hard hit by the opioid problem, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Among all 50 U.S. states, West Virginia ranks the third most rural with roughly 97% of all land considered rural, and about half of all residents considered rural population, per the 2010 census, according to World Population Review

Moreover, Black Americans are particularly affected by the opioid crisis, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Also according to World Population Review data, an estimated 85,000 West Virginians are Black, or about 5% of the population (relatively low among southern states), putting economic pressure at the forefront of West Virginia's overdose issue. West Virginia officials have taken steps to address their state's worsening opioid and overdose problem. Among other notable initiatives are the Quick Response Teams. According to the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy, these teams, made up law enforcement, substance use treatment professionals, and other highly-trained individuals support overdose survivors as they recover in the immediate aftermath of the incident.