Three West Virginia news stories stood out to me this past Easter weekend.
The first is out of Raleigh County: “Two Raleigh County residents are charged with child neglect after a toddler overdosed on heroin,” MetroNews reported.
The story goes on to explain how an infant at a home in Daniels ingested the dangerous drug. Sheriff’s deputies administered Narcan to the child and rushed him to the hospital where he is expected to recover.
Police have charged James Minton, 41, and Amanda Richmond, 34, of Daniels with child neglect resulting in serious bodily injury.
The second story is from Harrison County: “A Clarksburg woman faces charges after police found her overdosed in her home with her infant by her side,” MetroNews reported.
Shanique Joyner, 25, of Clarksburg was found unresponsive on the bathroom floor of her home with an infant next to her and needles nearby.
The third story came from Wood County: Madison Wine, 19, was convicted of murder after setting a fire in her home that killed her adoptive parents. Wine’s maternal grandmother, Charlotte, and her husband, Rob, had adopted Wine, who spent her early years living with drug-addicted parents.
I suspect these horrific stories that make the news are only a fraction of what is happening in our communities because of substance abuse disorder. There is an ongoing drug epidemic in our state, and it is getting worse.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures show there were an estimated 1,519 drug overdose deaths in West Virginia from November 2020 through November 2021. That is a 15 percent increase, and a continuation of the ignominious distinction of our state having the highest overdose death rate per capita in the country.
Nationally, The CDC reports the number of overdose deaths for a 12-month period ending in January has reached over 100,000 for the first time. One of the reasons for the rise is the proliferation of fentanyl, which is many times more powerful than heroin.
The impact of substance abuse disorder is not confined to the individual. The ripple effects extend to children, parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. According to Psychology Today, one in five children grow up in a home where someone is abusing drugs or alcohol.
State and community leaders in West Virginia, health providers, emergency workers and addiction specialists are fighting this battle every day. Communities are adopting innovative strategies, such as quick response teams to try to get individuals into treatment, and myriad programs are in place, but it is a struggle to keep up, and it feels like we’re losing the fight.
The numbers and the impacts are so overwhelming that we cannot consider the substance abuse problem as something that happens to others. It permeates nearly every corner of the Mountain State, traumatizing families, risking the wellbeing of innocent children and cutting deeply into the ability to provide a drug-free workforce.
Substance abuse and the multiple effects are no longer simply one of the many problems our state faces, it is the number one problem, superseding economic development, highways, and public education.
And we must treat it as such.