More than 1,000 West Virginians died of drug overdoses in 2017

MORGANTOWN — More than 1,000 people in West Virginia died by overdoses for the first time in 2017, according to recently updated statistics from the West Virginia Health Statistic Center.
According to a press release from Stop West Virginia Overdoses, 1,008 West Virginians died of drug overdoses in 2017. That’s 118 more deaths than in 2016 or a 13 percent increase.
At least one opioid was present in 867 of those deaths, also a 13 percent increase from 2016, the release stated.
Preliminary data from 2018 showed 498 overdose deaths occurred in the first six months of 2018, but officials with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources believe the growth rate has slowed, the release said.
“Seeing these numbers continue to increase is alarming,” Paul Fallon, spokesperson for Stop West Virginia Overdoses said. “These figures are more than just statistics. Each one represents a person who has died and a family that has been devastated.”
Thankfully, the Morgantown area has groups working to help those struggling with drug use.
Laura Jones, executive director of Milan Pushkar Health Right, said the clinic runs a harm reduction program — including a syringe exchange.
The needle exchange program is a way for the clinic to meet with people and try to help them be safer by not sharing needles, Jones said.
“As part of the work that we do here, we provide referrals to treatment and a whole array of medical and mental health services,” she said.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, sharing needles for injected drug use increases the user’s risk of HIV and various forms of hepatitis. There is also an increased risk of skin infections and abscesses.
Health Right also offers primary medical care for people who don’t have insurance or Medicaid, something Jones said many people who inject drugs don’t qualify for.
“People who inject drugs,” is the preferred verbage, not the term addicts, Jones said.
Many people who inject drugs are afraid to talk to doctors and don’t have a primary care provider, but Jones said Health Right is non-judgmental and offers free counseling in addition to primary care services.
It’s typically a two-three week wait, unless it’s a serious situation. Jones said those interested in taking advantage should call Health Right to schedule an appointment at 304-292-8234.
Those interested in taking advantage of the needle exchange program should also call that number to get the information needed to get started. Jones said the program in anonymous and does not require a name or ID from participants.
“Whatever they want to do that day, we help them find the answer,” Dan McCawley, peer recovery support specialist with West Virginia Peers, said.
West Virginia Peers offers free peer recovery coaching and connects those trying to live a healthier life to various services in Monongalia County, McCawley said.
Peer recovery specialists have lived experience with an addiction, according to the organization’s website.
McCawley said it’s helpful to have someone who understands the processes of getting help. Services are individual-driven but the recovery specialist will help people enroll in detox, meet them face-to-face to talk or help get tested for hepatitis.
The coaches will also help people continue their education or find housing, he said.
WV Peers help is a phone call away at 304-602-3305.
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