Overdose deaths declined throughout state in 2018, but increased in two NCWV counties

Published: Sep. 9, 2019 at 5:13 PM EDT
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Overdose deaths in West Virginia have steadily increased since 2014.

But according to new data from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, that trend may be reversing.

The DHHR's preliminary 2018 data suggests overdose deaths are expected to decrease by 6% from 2017.

The governor called the news "incredibly heartening," but added, "We still have a lot of work to do."

On the county level, that work is far from over. Despite the overall declines, nine counties are projected to see a clear increase from the previous year, including Harrison and Monongalia.

They are among the 21 counties throughout the state that experienced at least 10 overdose deaths in 2018.

While the data points to a possible decline in overdose deaths, addiction and recovery experts say the numbers don't necessarily paint the full picture.

"The deaths are just the people who weren't revived," said Denzil Hawkinberry, director of addiction/recovery at Community Care of West Virginia. "That's one place where we're lacking is what to do with the patients once we revive them."

Opioids were involved in 82% of overdose deaths in 2018, down from the 86% figure in 2017.

But the percentage of overdose deaths involving meth are still on the rise.

More than one-third of overdose deaths involved meth. That figure was at 3% in 2014.

Local officials have been sounding the alarm in recent years when it comes to meth, including in Taylor County, where prosecutors say nearly 90 percent of their caseload has a meth component.

The DHHR said most overdoses involve more than one drug, including fentanyl, which is involved in nearly 60% of the deaths.

That figure stayed the same from the previous year, but is a stark increase from the 9% clip reported in 2014.

Hawkinberry said the keys to curbing the crisis moving forward include expanding resources in prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.

"Understand that it is a disease - addiction," Hawkinberry said. "It needs to be treated like a disease. We need money in the forms of grants and reimbursements to expand all available treatments."

There were 888 confirmed overdose deaths in 2018 across the state. That number could increase.

The DHHR is waiting on more cases pending the cause of death before it finalizes last year's data.

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