April 22, 2021 – Data analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health, which analyzed overdose deaths across 31 states, found West Virginia’s increase during that month to be significantly higher than any other state.

“I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not,” said Jon Dower, the executive director of West Virginia Sober Living and an adjunct professor at West Virginia University. “People lost in-person services and they lost stability.”

The deaths, according to the data provided by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, were driven primarily by an increase in overdoses linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

Last year, 955 deaths, about three of every four in the state, were linked to the drug.

Fentanyl, which is cheaper than heroin and can be more deadly, is linked to a spike in overdoses nationally. Just this year, the federal government changed rules on funding to allow grant money to be used to buy fentanyl test strips to help combat the crisis.

The test strips allow people with substance use disorders to test their drugs before using, and some cities across the country have pushed to make the strips more accessible in an effort to decrease overdose death rates.

In West Virginia, harm reduction programs — including syringe exchanges — have played a major role in supplying the strips, along with the overdose reversal medication naloxone. But rather than working to increase access to these life-saving tools, West Virginia’s lawmakers put in place a greater barrier.



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