Addressing West Virginia’s drug overdose problem
Death caused from drug overdose is reaching epidemic levels in communities across the country, with West Virginia ranking as one of the highest in the nation. According to a 2015 study by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, drug overdose deaths in West Virginia were about 34 per 100,000 residents — more than double the national average.
Abuse and diversion of prescription opioids has become a cornerstone of this epidemic. In 2010, opioid abuse was linked to 16,651 deaths nationally, far exceeding the deaths from any other drug class. Prescription opioid abuse creates higher healthcare costs, higher workplace costs and higher criminal justice costs. All told, these costs equal $55.7 billion a year nationally.
While reducing loss of life and cost is a focus for lawmakers attempting to address this problem, it is also important to remember what prescription medications provide — relief in a patient’s daily struggle to manage both long term and/or short term pain symptoms.
Chronic pain impacts approximately 100 million Americans. Accounting for the additional health care expenditures and lost productivity at work, chronic pain imposes between $560 billion and $635 billion in annual costs.
For elected officials, addressing the skyrocketing number of drug overdose deaths while ensuring people who suffer from chronic pain have access to much-needed medication is a critical challenge.