Sustained Outrage

More on drug overdoses in West Virginia

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released some pretty disturbing figures about overdose deaths in America. The number of deaths from drug overdoses has never been higher, according to CDC figures.

This reinforces earlier information that recreational drug use in rural areas, while not as prevalent as urban and suburban drug use, is deadlier.

Other key findings:

  • In 2006, 26,400 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States.
  • Drug overdose deaths were second only to motor vehicle crash deaths among leading causes of unintentional injury death in 2006 in the United States.
  • Rates of drug overdose fatalities have quintupled since 1990.
  • Among deaths attributed to drugs, the most common drug categories are cocaine, heroin, and a type of prescription drug called opioid painkillers.
  • “Opioids” are synthetic versions of opium. They have the ability to reduce pain but can also suppress breathing to a fatal degree when taken in excess. Examples of opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and methadone.
  • There has been at least a 10-fold increase in the medical use of opioid painkillers during the last 15 years because of a movement toward more aggressive management of pain.
  • By 2006, opioids were involved in more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
  • States in the Appalachian region and the Southwest have the highest death rates.

Alarmingly, in 2006 West Virginia tied with New Mexico for the highest rate of overdose deaths (at 19.1 deaths per 100,000 population). West Virginia fares worse than Kentucky (15.7), Tennessee (14.0), Pennsylvania (12.3), Ohio (11.6) and Virginia (6.4).

More information from the CDC on drug overdoses can be found here, including:

  • From 1999 through 2006, the number of fatal poisonings involving opioid analgesics more than tripled from 4,000 to 13,800 deaths.
  • Opioid analgesics were involved in almost 40% of all poisoning deaths in 2006.
  • In 2006, the rate of poisoning deaths involving opioid analgesics was higher for males, persons aged 35-54 years, and non-Hispanic white persons than for females and those in other age and racial/ethnic groups.
  • In about one-half of the deaths involving opioid analgesics, more than one type of drug was specified as contributing to the death, with benzodiazepines specified with opioid analgesics most frequently.