I kept up with the news while on staycation last week and two stories on the MetroNews website stood out to me.
The first detailed federal charges against 13 individuals, including 11 doctors—three from southern West Virginia—for running pill mills. Federal authorities said the suspects are accused of distributing more than 17 million pills.
According to the indictment, one doctor would take calls from individuals, meet them in a parking lot and write out prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine.
This was the second sweep by the Appalachian Region Prescription Opioid Strike Force. Last April, federal authorities charged 60 individuals, including 53 medical professionals, with illegally distributing more than 23 million pills.
So even though the risk of addiction to these powerful pain killers is well known, and opioid manufacturers are being held accountable through civil litigation for flooding the market with these drugs, these pipelines through unscrupulous “doctors” remain.
The second story is related to the first. State Department of Health and Human Resources Deputy Secretary Jeremiah Samples told lawmakers the state’s foster care system had 791 runaways last year and is on pace for even more this year.
Samples called the runaway problem alarming. “It’s a problem and it’s getting worse,” he said.
As Jeff Jenkins reported, “Most of the runaways are boys between the ages of 13 and 17 who have been placed in group homes or emergency shelters for foster children. Fewer of the runaways are actually from foster care families.”
The state’s foster care system is bursting at the seams. The number of children in the system has risen by 67 percent since 2013. The surge in children being removed from homes is directly linked to the opioid epidemic. Samples told lawmakers that four out of five children in the system because of abuse or neglect are cases involving drug addicted parents.
Samples said most of the runaways head back home. “Children with bad parents still love their parents, and that’s who they run to,” Samples said.
But an alarming number of children just disappear. Samples said as of June, 95 children who were in the foster care system but ran away cannot be accounted for. “What has happened to those children?” Samples asked. “When you talk about sex trafficking and dangers of the modern world, it’s just an alarming number that we have to find some solutions to.”
This is deeply troubling evidence of the fallout of the drug epidemic in our state. It’s bad enough when lives are lost to addiction, but now we are witnessing the traumatic impact on the next generation—the children of the addicts who have been brought into a world of chaos and pain.
The opioid crisis and the fallout from addiction is the great tragedy of our time. Nothing is ever easy in West Virginia and it is evident that this existential crisis of addiction is impacting the state in ways that we have yet to fully comprehend.