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West Virginia Working to Change Opioid Statistics

By Laura Lin
On September 17, 2018

In 2016, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that West Virginia had the highest number of drug related deaths in the nation. The final figure for that year was 733 deaths, the majority of which related to opioid and heroin overdose. This statistic got the attention of Gov. Jim Justice who did not want it to define West Virginia.

In January of 2018, an Opioid Response Plan was released for public viewing and comment in order to devise a way to successfully help those with opioid dependency and hold those who prescribe them accountable. The plan addressed preventative measures as well as interventions, support for families, and recovery treatments.

On the heels of this proposal was the launching of Bill 273 in March. The bill outlined guidelines and regulations to limit the quantity of opioid prescriptions being written and how they were to be prescribed.

The NIDA report made it known that providers in West Virginia wrote 110 opioid prescriptions per 100 people, the national average being 70 prescriptions. Bill 273 would change this, regulating the quantity and frequency of opioid prescriptions.

WSAZ out of Charleston summed up the bill this way: adults visiting an emergency room or urgent care facility would be allotted a four-day supply while minors and those visiting a dentist or optometrist would only receive a threeday supply. Patients treated by general practitioner would only get seven days. The bill did state that there would be no limits placed on cancer patients, longterm care facility patients, or hospice care patients.

Many patients are being referred to pain management therapy instead of prolonged prescription use as a means of treating the source of the pain rather than just the symptoms. There is also more communication going on between doctors and pharmacists in order to catch an over-prescribed or multiple opioid prescriptions to avoid possible overdoses.

There is a decrease in the quantity of opioids released due to the restrictions. Those who were used to having their monthly prescription must now contact their doctor and be seen in person in order to receive refills. Documentation of diagnosis must be known for both the pharmacist and the insurance company, and more literature is being handed out in order to bring an awareness of the addictive nature of opioids.

Another change that has come about this year is the availability of Naloxone, or the brand drug Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Once available only in hospitals and a few EMS vehicles, Narcan is now a staple for all emergency personnel in addition to being offered to patients who are prescribed maintenance narcotics or multiple narcotics. Though patients do not have to take the offered Narcan, many appreciate the choice and feel more comfortable having it in their home in case of accidental overdose.

Concord University’s social work department is doing their part in fighting the opioid epidemic by partnering with “Inside Appalachia” to offer an Opioid Symposium.

The symposium was designed to provide continuing education to social work professionals and others that work directly with the community. The symposium theme this year is “Providing Hope,” and as Assistant Professor of Social Work Scott Inghram states in the press release for this event, the focus is on the “existing strength within ourselves, our families, and our communities.”

Day one of the symposium offered several workshops that gave insight into the opioid epidemic from various perspectives and discussed issues that related to the crises in southern West Virginia.

The second day was a round table conversation moderated by Jessica Lilly of “Inside Appalachia.” The panel discussed how the epidemic affects the children and families of those with an opioid dependency. The event ended with a viewing of “Recovery Boys,” a documentary that follows four men who “reinvent their lives” after years of drug dependency. The film provides a close look at the obstacles that one must overcome in recovery and the courage it takes to obtain sobriety.

Films such as “Heroin(e)” and “Recovery Boys,” along with the symposiums, are just a few ways in which efforts are being made to educate the community about the cause and effects of opioid and drug dependencies. All of these efforts are a way of looking past the numbers in order to see the faces of the people affected and to learn their stories.

Those who have never experienced a dependency (suffered from a dependency on opioids/ suffered from addiction) are often quick to judge, but through symposiums such as this, an educated understanding can be established so that better help may offered.

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