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Drug overdose deaths increase in West Virginia, nationwide

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Deaths from drug overdoses in the United States increased by nearly 30% between 2019 and 2020 with almost 75% of deaths from the misuse of opioids.

The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics on Wednesday released provisional data on drug overdose deaths, in which the agency reported more than 93,000 deaths from drug overdoses in 2020. The United States had around 72,000 deaths at the end of 2019.

The agency noted 69,170 deaths involved an opioid and 57,550 deaths involved a synthetic opioid such as fentanyl.

West Virginia had 1,377 deaths in 2020 related to drug overdoses — a 49.3% increase from 2019 — in which 1,179 deaths involved opioids and 1,095 deaths involved synthetic opioids.

West Virginia Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell — who represents municipalities in trials related to the opioid crisis — said the data shows governments continue to struggle to address the misuse of drugs.

“There are certain elements out there that would suggest that the crisis is behind us,” he said. “Last year was a very high year for overdoses, probably tied to the stimulus checks that freed up money for folks for people to engage in this.”

West Virginia Attorney General Pattrick Morriesy tied the increase in fentanyl use to a rise in migrants entering the United States from the southern border.

“The reality of it is that we’re seeing significant spikes in fentanyl deaths, and there’s some very specific actions that the federal government can take,” he said. “First of all, they have to close the borders. We have porous borders, and that’s part of what’s happening. Illicit fentanyl is flooding into our state, and it’s happening all across America.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called on Congress to provide additional funding for substance misuse treatment centers and permanently schedule illicit fentanyl.

“It is past time we took action, and I urge my colleagues to step up to the plate and help combat this terrible epidemic,” he added.

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