According to a report by the Trust for America’s Health, West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the country at 29.8 per 100,000 people. This number has risen by 605 percent since 1999, with nine out of ten of these deaths being the result of prescription drug abuse. This rapid increase in prescription drug-related deaths started occurring in 1999, just four years after OxyContin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.
OxyContin is a pharmaceutical opioid that has made a name for itself as “hillbilly heroin” and is now regarded as the street drug of choice in Appalachia. This is a result of its prevalent abuse in mountainous and rural regions of the country. The central Appalachian region of the country has been hit very deeply by this growing epidemic.
West Virginia has shown to be the epitome of this trend. It houses numerous old mining towns that have fallen victim to prescription drug abuse. In 2008, a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that residents of the state housed 19 prescriptions per capita — seven more than the national average. Part of this trend started with local doctors prescribing OxyContin to coal miners who fell subject to terrible physical pain from working in such harsh conditions. These misfortunes are highlighted in the documentary “Oxyana,” a film depicting the substandard living conditions of the southern West Virginia town Oceania and the terrible effect prescription drug abuse has had on the Appalachian community.
Many parts of central Appalachia are characterized by high rates of poverty and unemployment. These areas are often limited in proper health care options and drug addiction treatment facilities. West Virginia along with Kentucky and southern Ohio have fallen victim to widespread prescription drug abuse and are among the leaders in prescription drug abuse-related deaths.
West Virginia is the only state that is wholly owned by Appalachia, meaning that the Appalachian mountains run throughout the entire state. One could say this might be why this prescription drug epidemic has hit the state on such a large scale. The state ranks as one of the poorest states in the country with 17.4 percent living under the poverty line. Living in substandard conditions, which appear to be prevalent throughout a significant portion of the state, has lead many to lack the appropriate resources to get the proper drug addiction treatment they need.
Prescription drug abuse takes more lives than all other illegal drugs combined and its use continues to rise dramatically in the United States. It has taken a hold of communities in this region of the country and authorities and local government have taken measures to prevent it from spreading further. Most states have started implementing prescription monitoring system to prevent “doctor shopping” as well. Hopefully this will help stop the increase in prescription drug abuse across the country.
For those struggling with prescription drug abuse, help is available nearby in Fort Myers, Florida. Sovereign Health Group offers various inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment programs for patients suffering from drug addiction and mental health disorders. If you or someone you know is suffering from prescription drug addiction, please contact Sovereign Health of Fort Myers at 866-547-3360.
Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group Writer