An overdose of extreme loss in West Virginia

By Paula J. Bretz

In December 2017, the National Center for Health Statistics released a report revealing that West Virginia led the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016.

West Virginia’s Health Statistics Center documented at least 909 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2017, exceeding the 887 fatalities of 2016.

For all of us, these facts were and are a source of heartbreak, deep concern, anger and frustration. The opioid overdose crisis is a nationwide problem but the impact here seems especially vicious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year. That includes the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.

Efforts being made to address the causes of, and intercept paths to addiction are in the news daily, from Rep. David McKinley’s justified admonition to Big Pharma, to law enforcement’s identification and breaking up of “pill mills” in the state, to the D.A.R.E. initiative.

Opioids include prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Four percent to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin. Transitioning to heroin is dangerous for many reasons including lack of control over the purity of the drug and possible contamination with other extremely potent drugs. All of these factors increase the risk for overdosing and death.

How do we deter others from taking that step from prescription opioids to illegal drugs? Controlling and monitoring prescription opioids seems to be the obvious first step and appears to be at the forefront of the battle to prevent addiction to prescription opioids.

Research on better pain management options, whether through behavior modification or use of less addictive drugs is ongoing.

Do you remember your drivers’ education class and whatever version of “Tragedy on Wheels” you were shown? I never forgot the sight of patrolmen at the scene of a fatal accident where the gelatinous brains of two victims were exposed after the drowsy driver ran the car under a semi-truck.

I always leave plenty of clearance between me and the next vehicle, no doubt due to that traumatic visual. Deaths due to opioid overdoses usually don’t have that drama.

The few pictures I have seen show people appearing to be asleep or passed out. Perhaps everyone should watch a documentary tracing illegal drugs as they make their way to local dealers.

There are movies that offer a glimpse into the carnage wrought by warring drug cartels. Media outlets sometimes mention innocent victims of the drug wars such as the journalists and the three student photographers murdered and dissolved in acid.

Perhaps it would be a powerful deterrent to see the history of one sale in the U.S., and who suffered or died to get it here to the user.

Paula J. Bretz is a member of The Dominion Post’s Community Advisory Board.

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