CHARLESTON, W.Va. – It’s an epidemic that’s sweeping the nation, but one that’s hit hardest here at home. The Trust for America’s Health released a report earlier this week that found West Virginia has the highest drug overdose rate in the country.

“The lowest, to put it in perspective, is North Dakota. They come in at 3.4 per 100,000 overdoses compared to 28.9 [in West Virginia]. That’s pretty striking,” said Rich Hamburg, the Deputy Director of the Trust for America’s Health.

He says that’s not even the worst news.

“Not only is it the highest in the country, it has quadrupled over the last ten years,” stressed the deputy director.

What’s the reasoning behind the exploding prescription drug abuse problem here in West Virginia? Hamburg said it all come down to access.

“We see particularly high rates of sales of Oxycontin in coal mining areas, West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, which tend to be places with high concentrations of people with back problems and other chronic pain,” explained Hamburg. “We see higher rates in areas of more poverty. We see higher rates in more rural areas.”

All of those pretty much describe most of West Virginia. In fact, more people die of a drug overdose in West Virginia than those killed in auto accidents. The drugs of choice tend to be Oxycontin, hydrocodone, Vicodin, Xanax and Ritalin.

“If there’s more medication out there, there’s going to be more abuse of those medications,” according to Hamburg.

The report looked at the glut of prescription drugs showing up on the street. Hamburg said much of the time those drugs were prescribed through legal channels, like a family doctor, or through iffy practices, such as purchasing them on the Internet. But according to the study, the majority of abusers are not the ones who were prescribed those drugs in the first place.

“Fifty-five percent of those who have had prescription drug abuse [problems] have received them from friends and family,” explained Hamburg. “So we are talking about just going to your parents’ bathroom and grabbing a handful of pills that they might have forgotten about.”

Hamburg stressed there is no silver bullet to put a stop to prescription drug abuse but there are ways to help curb it. Hamburg said West Virginia’s prescription drug monitoring program is making a difference. But he believes the real healing begins with education, responsible prescribing practices, safe storage of prescriptions and, most importantly, treatment.

“We need to make sure more people are receiving health care and health care that has behavioral and mental health treatment ,” said Hamburg.

You can read more about the study at

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  • jason

    "According to the report by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH), prescription drug abuse has quickly become a top public health concern, as prescription drug related deaths now outnumber those from heroin and cocaine combined, and drug overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle-related deaths in 29 states and Washington, D.C. Misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers alone costs the country an estimated $53.4 billion a year in lost productivity, medical costs and criminal justice costs. The report also notes that, currently, only one in 10 Americans with a substance abuse disorder receives treatment." (Trust's for America's health, 2013) I get why you do not like the fight against prescription drugs, but doctors are supporting this disease and making a lot of money doing it. just saying, here is a reference if you need it.

  • Jake

    Why is this a huge issue???? It's not as bad as they make it seem. There is 1.855 million people in WV, 561 die from overdose....they left out the fact that those 561 deaths weren't just from pain pills but heroin and over the counter pills along with meth. Clearly our politics have money invested somewhere to put this much pressure on doctors to no prescribe pain pills. As a Doctor I've noticed these trends. The death rate in D.C is double ours. The whole basing numbers off per 100,000 is bad math and science. Instead of wasting public funds on an issue we'll never control, put it towards our run down roads and buildings. We have bigger issues than pill. Like how 63% of West Virginia's are over weight! That's over 900,000 people, of that one third will die because of being over weight. That's 300,000! Come on West Virginia put the money where it will help and not some dead end drug, anyone with common sense can see how biased these "facts" are. Population increase over ten years, age increase in residents equals failing bodies, etc etc. 561 deaths isn't an epidemic, 300,000 is...

  • palmetto not going back

    I just read your comment and felt like I wrote it myself

  • Homesick

    This is such a sad problem. I have watched many people I grew up with in school die, expecally recently. I moved out of state due to the lack of work and the drug problem. I don't want to raise my kids in an area where there are pill heads everywhere and it's a social norm to do them. I refuse! Sooo WV lets do something other than condiming people to death! Stricter laws rehab facilities ... Something ! I miss Wv and all her beauty but untill this problem is fixed I can not come back ! Rediculous

  • Tiffany

    Learn how to spell.

  • Bill

    Let them die. Who really gives a rats azz if these worthless pillheads kill themselves?

  • Frank Burly

    The senator's daughter is the CEO of the major pharmaceutical company in West Virginia...

  • realitycheck

    can't even spell Virginia correctly....

  • realitycheck

    what the hell does that have to do with any of this???

  • Vet

    Amen. I especially like the part of the population that it helps control. Darwinism at its finest.

  • Vet

    On the bright side the more overdoses the less drugs heads for tomorrow .

  • Bobby M

    Lay off the dope fella! Its not good for your BRAIN!


  • GregG

    DWL, if they did a little research I would guess WV Doctors are #1 in big pharm kick backs.

  • Anonymous

    May be in your opinion, however I was in a serious accident and was prescribed pain meds for that, only after 5 years my injury hadnt gotten better and my 'doctor' thought the solution was to give me stronger drugs to manage the pain. When she wanted to start me on pain medicine for cancer patients..I knew it was either up to me to quit or eventually die in her care. So I hope that you are never seriously injured and need treatment with pain medicine..because anyone can get addicted..anyone, you are not above it.

  • Anonymous

    So very sad... as a former addict I can vouch how very easy it was to get your hands on pills.. too easy :( I have been clean for almost 4 years and taking that first step was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do, but I am thankful every single day that I did it and that nothing horrible happened to me during the years that I wasn't clean. I think more access to treatment facilities and counseling would be a start , those are what I had serious trouble finding when I wanted to quit..ended up finding a great doctor who worked with me and wasn't trying to shove a different medicine in my face.. A sad day for WV indeed .

  • Nick

    It is good population control.

  • jeco

    Misery and Death must make you people happy. Your sick or mental.

  • Bobby M

    And with THE way our football teams playing its only gonna GET worse!!!!

  • lee arthur

    How do you spell despair ? w-e-s-t v-I-r-g-I-n-a.

  • OncewasWV

    Don't forget #1 in Disability fraud or close to it!

  • DWL

    Hooray! We’re NUMBER 1 at something, finally. Education – dead last. Employment (Thanks to the Magnanimous O) near the bottom of the pile and falling fast. Corrupt politicians - #2 behind Chicago’s best. Way to go Liberal Democrats! Time for another tourism reality show. Is the White family out on bond?