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West Virginia Opioid Overdose Decline?

west virginia opioid overdose

West Virginia Opioid Overdose Decline?

Have West Virginia opioid overdose rates really declined? According to Governor Jim Justice and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, that answer is Yes. According to Politifact however, it’s more Yes and No.

West Virginia Opioid Overdose: Rates & Response

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that West Virginia opioid overdose deaths increased from 16.1 per 100,000 people in 2006 to 43.4 per 100,000 people in 2016. The Trust for America’s Health reports the state’s 2017 opioid overdose death rate jumped to 57.8 per 100,000 people. Yes, that gave West Virginia the dubious distinction of having the highest per capita opioid overdose death rate in the entire nation. It also put both state and federal politicians on high alert.

The politicians responded. West Virginia first salvoed with its comprehensive Opioid Response Plan. Then, at the end of last year, Governor Jim Justice appointed Bob Hansen, director of addiction services at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, as the permanent director for the state Office of Drug Control Policy. Brian Gallagher, the chief governmental affairs officer for Marshall Health, chairs the new Council on Substance Abuse and Treatment

In February, the state’s Department of Health and Human resources announced the second of two pilot projects partnering with West Virginia University for substance abuse and recovery. Focusing on Berkeley and Jefferson counties, the pilot works to expand access to prevention and early intervention, as well as treatment, overdose reversal, family support and recovery. The first pilot program was launched in Wyoming County last year.

Money Changes Everything

Thus far a total of $14,630,361 has been awarded to West Virginia by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to combat the opioid epidemic.

So say West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito anyway, who made the announcement in a press release on March 19.

“West Virginia has been at the frontlines of the fight against the opioid epidemic and is now ground zero for recovery efforts,” Manchin said in the release. “This funding will enable West Virginia to provide our citizens with the help that they need in order to combat the opioid epidemic in our state. Our citizens deserve the opportunity to receive treatment. As a member of the Appropriations committee, I will continue to fight to ensure that West Virginia receives the federal funding and support we need to prevent overdose deaths.”

“The drug epidemic has devastated so many families and so many communities across West Virginia, and federal funding like this plays an important role in helping us fight back against the opioid crisis,” Capito added. “I helped change the state grant formula in the Labor-HHS government funding bill last fall, and the benefits of that change are evident today with this distribution of resources. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, it’s been my goal not only to ensure these funds are available but also to make sure they’re going to states with the greatest needs—states like West Virginia. I am glad to see this critical funding come to our state and will continue to advocate for these much-needed resources.”

The State Opioid Response Grants are said to increase access for the treatment of opioid use disorder, address unmet needs, and reduce deaths from overdose through the provision of prevention, treatment and recovery activities for opioid use disorder.

West Virginia Opioid Overdose Rates: Lethal and Non-lethal

During his State of the State address back on January 9th, Gov. Justice said Cabell County overdoses had decreased by 40%. Then, in a Jan. 22nd Tweet, Sen. Capito claimed West Virginia opioid overdose deaths were down 8.5%. Could both of these numbers be true?

Politifact parched the numbers. In the governor’s case, Cabell County had 742 fewer non-fatal drug overdoses in 2018 compared with the record-setting 2017. That was indeed a decrease of 40.5 percent. And considering Cabell County is one of West Virginia’s most populous counties and includes the drug-ravaged city of Huntington, that’s more than most welcome news.

In the senator’s case, the figure comes from state-by-state data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That data predicted West Virginia’s 12-month number for overdose deaths from all drugs fell from 1,047 in 2017 to 958 in 2018. That’s a decrease of 8.5 percent, as Capito said. However, decline refers to overdose deaths from all drugs, not just “opioid overdose deaths.”

A different cut of the CDC data actually shows even stronger declines in West Virginia. Preliminary, 12-month statewide data for overdose deaths shows an 18.7 percent decline for reported deaths between July 2017 and July 2018, and a 32 percent decline for predicted deaths over the same period.

Whatever the actual numbers, the West Virginia opioid overdose rate is indeed declining, and it’s declining significantly. With the recent influx of more federal dollars to fight the epidemic, and the strong state leadership, those declines will undoubtedly increase. For a state that has led the nation in per capita opioid overdose deaths, that’s saying something. Let’s hope we keep hearing such somethings from here on out.

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