The Opioid Crisis: The Real National Emergency

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The Opioid Crisis: The Real National Emergency

Diagram that shows the opioid crisis in WV.

Diagram that shows the opioid crisis in WV.

Diagram that shows the opioid crisis in WV.

Diagram that shows the opioid crisis in WV.

Madison Casteele

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West Virginia has had an opioid crisis for the last few years, but people are struggling to figure out why.  

In 2016, West Virginia had the highest rate of opioid related overdose deaths in the United States, with 43 deaths per 100,000. This was up from the 1999 statistic of 2 deaths per 100,000. 

The number of deaths peaked at 733 in 2016, with most of them attributed to synthetic opioids and heroin. For reference, SMHS’s population is approximately 1,400. 

But why is there such an increase in overdose related deaths? In 2013, West Virginia providers wrote 110 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons. That’s 2.08 million prescriptions with a state population of 1.8 million. In comparison, US providers wrote 70 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons.  

But deaths aren’t the only side effect of this dangerous and growing problem. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a group of conditions which a baby shows signs of if he or she is withdrawing from certain drugs while they’re in the womb. 

Between 2007 and 2013, NAS rates in West Virginia significantly increased from 8 to 33 cases per 1,000 life births per year. The average across the other 28 states was 6 cases per 1,000 live births.  

2014-2016 saw another increase of NAS, with rates rising to 37 cases per 1,000 live births. In 2013 the southeast region of the state had the highest NAS rate of 49 cases per 1,000 live births.  

But why is there an opioid crisis happening at all? Where did it begin? Some research points to growing poverty rates in the state.  

More people lived in poverty in 2017 than 2016, suggesting a growing poverty rate in the state of West Virginia. An estimated 336,301 West Virginians lived in poverty in 2017, which is a 19.1% poverty rate. That’s an increase of 1.2% from 2016.  

West Virginia’s poverty rate was 5.7% higher than the national average. It’s the fourth highest in poverty rate among 50 states in 2017.  

Statistics show that socioeconomic status can have a strong impact on one’s risk of abusing drugs and alcohol. It also determines whether they’ll get treatment, and if they do, how good it will be.  

Two widely circulated stereotypes are drugs only affecting the poor and those affected are unemployed and have little hope of getting better.  

In reality, addiction affects all social classes. 

But addiction does affect some people in poorer social classes, too. 34% of homeless adults living in shelters have drug or alcohol disorders, and 26% of them have mental illness.  

Treatment is also hard to achieve in West Virginia. Barriers ranging from pricing to wait lists can deter someone seeking treatment.  

37% don’t get treatment because they can’t afford it or don’t have health insurance. 25% aren’t ready to stop using.  

In West Virginia, there are quite a few highly rated and suggested treatment centers. Wayne, Ohio, and Monongalia counties are the top counties in the state to seek treatment.  

The Word House, located in Wayne county, was the only treatment center from these counties to comment on prices and waiting lists.  

“The federal government has made more monies available through the local state’s Medicaid programs to cover the cost of opioid treatments. More traditional approaches, such as Outpatient, Partial and Residential programs remain.” said Dave Clay from The Word House. “However, there is ever increasing respect and credibility given to more non-traditional approaches, such as Medication Assist Treatment, and particularly Suboxone and Vivitrol.” 

Suboxone is a medication that is part synthetic opiate and an opiate blocker. Vivitrol is only an opiate blocker. MAT programs give the patient medications to block the receptors in the brain and nervous system that opioids bind to, making it difficult to get high. Suboxone is taken daily, and Vivitrol is a monthly injection. 

There is also a guideline through the American Society of Addiction Medicine for what level of care is needed, based on a history of symptoms.  

Outside of Medicaid, the cost of opioid treatment can run up to $195 per hour for counseling-psychotherapy, and $200 per doctor visit.  

The Word House no longer has a waiting list and does not offer inpatient programs. 

Jacob’s Ladder, located in Aurora, West Virginia, is another highly rated treatment center. They accept most commercial insurances and are in the process of completing their application with the state’s Medicaid program. They hope to be able to accept WV Medicaid in the next few months. 

Jacob’s Ladder also has a non-profit organization called the Jacob’s Ladder Assistance Fund that raises funds and applies for grants to provide treatment for individuals in financial need.  

“About 70% of our residents come through the program with financial assistance. There currently is a waiting list for financial assistance. Our waiting list numbers vary as many factors affect them. We do encourage individuals to complete an application to add their name to the waiting list,” said Stephanie Blankenship, and RN and BSN at Jacob’s Ladder.