Cece Brown was sitting on the couch in her Charleston home looking at a picture of her son, Ryan, who had died from a heroin overdose, when she decided to get up and do something. “One of the first things I said was, ‘I don’t want one more person to die. I don’t want another family to go through this.’”
Brown channeled her grief into action and started raising awareness about the drug epidemic and pushing for more treatment. She found an ally in Andrew Robinson, a friend of Ryan’s and a member of the West Virginia Legislature, who introduced a bill to fight the drug problem.
This year lawmakers passed the Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention and Recovery Fund bill to raise and direct resources toward addiction treatment. So far, the fund has $12.7 million in it. That’s a portion of the lawsuit settlements with drug companies that oversupplied opioids to West Virginia.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources, which administers the fund, says it has received 23 applications for grants and DHHR is on the second round of reviews for the money. The agencies that receive the grants will provide a variety of treatments, including badly needed beds.
West Virginia has been harder hit by the opioid epidemic than almost any other state. On average, two West Virginians die every day from an overdose of prescription opioids and heroin. Our state’s drug overdose death rate is 41.5 per 100,000 residents, a higher percentage than any other state. Neighboring Kentucky and Ohio are also in the top five, along with New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
The Centers for Disease Control reports the number of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids and heroin quadrupled between 2000 and 2015. Every day, 91 people in this country die from an overdose of opioids and another 1,000 end up in emergency rooms after not using prescription opioids as directed.
Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre, in his Pulitzer Prize winning series, chronicled several out-of-state drug companies flooded West Virginia with prescription pain killers, fueling the crisis. During one six year period, “drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, while 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers,” a Sunday Gazette-Mail investigation found.
The drug problem has reached every part of our state. A MetroNews West Virginia Poll earlier this year found that 48 percent of West Virginians know someone who has been addicted to pain medication.
It’s taken awhile, but the country’s leaders are now coming to understand the full measure of the opioid epidemic. Today, President Trump holds an event at the White House where he is expected to announce that we have a “nationwide opioid crisis,” and what his administration’s plans are to combat it.
Cece Brown and her husband Bobby will be there today as special guests of the President. Cece is grateful for the national attention on the addiction issue, but she remains sad because of the personal tragedy that brought them there. “If you would have said to us ten years ago that this would happen to Ryan I would have never believed it,” she said Wednesday on Talkline. “But it does mean a lot that we are here and we see some hope.”