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Projections for W.Va deaths due to drugs, alcohol, suicide called ‘staggering, preventable’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Without “bigger and bolder” steps to reverse the trend, a new report shows many more West Virginians will die because of drugs, alcohol and suicide in the coming years.

“We see the problem evolving in front of our eyes in real time,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health.

On Tuesday, he joined those with the Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust for the release of a report titled “Pain in the Nation: The Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Epidemics and the Need for a National Resilience Strategy.”

Analysis for the report came from the Berkeley Research Group.

In 2015, the drug, alcohol and suicide death rate in West Virginia was 67.4 per 100,000 people — ranked No. 2 nationally, according to the report.

By 2025, researchers were projecting that rate could climb to close to 100 per 100,000 people keeping the Mountain State behind only New Mexico.

“These numbers are staggering, they’re tragic and they’re preventable,” said John Auerbach, president and CEO of the Trust for America’s Health.

Nationally, from 2006 to 2015, the report indicated there were one million deaths from the three identified causes — called diseases of “pain, hopelessness and despair.”

“These estimates may actually be conservative,” Auerbach noted about the numbers.

“The provisional data from the CDC are showing that the rapid rise of heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil are pushing the numbers higher and faster to a ‘worst case scenario’ where deaths over the next decade could actually double to two million.”

In 2015, West Virginia’s drug overdose death rate alone was the highest in the U.S. at 39.3 per 100,000.

During the same time, the Mountain State was 24th nationally for alcohol-induced deaths and 14th for suicides.

“These are very real and very serious and, quite frankly, astronomical challenges we’re facing in our nation,” Gupta said.

The TFAH and WBT report included 60 recommendations for action including improvements in pain management and treatment, stemming the opioid crisis with a “full-scale approach” and addressing the impact of the opioid epidemic on children.

Also on the list of recommendations were the lowering of excessive alcohol use, suicide prevention, mental health and substance use disorder treatment service expansion and modernization, prevention prioritization and reboots of school substance misuse prevention.

All of the recommendations were designed to be part of a National Resilience Strategy, officials said, focused on prevention, early identification of issues and effective treatment.

“Incrementalism is no longer an option. Comprehensive and systemic solutions are needed to move forward and to stop these trends,” said Dr. Benjamin Miller, chief policy officer of Well Being Trust.

The projected death rate increases in West Virginia reflected similar forecasted increases in other states.

1. New Mexico 77.4 per 100,000
2. West Virginia 67.4
3. Wyoming 66.4
4. Alaska 63
5. New Hampshire 60.6

1. New Mexico 105.7 per 100,000
2. West Virginia 99.6
3. Wyoming 88.8
4. New Hampshire 88.1
5. Alaska 84.4

Miller admitted the numbers are dire, but said the report offered “a path forward.”

“There are 1.6 million lives on the line here,” he said. “One policy or program is not going to be the panacea here. This is going to take much more intentional investment in robust, systemic solutions.”

Auerbach agreed.

“It’s time now for a paradigm shift where we respond to the factors that contribute to adverse circumstances — pain, despair and distress,” he said Tuesday.

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