Heroin deaths in W.Va. doubled since 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – Some states, including West Virginia, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what’s happening in West Virginia:


West Virginia’s prescription opiate addicts are following a national trend as they shift to heroin, said Kenny Burner of the state Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Burner said the numbers of seizures and overdoses have been steadily increasing over the past three to five years. Burner overseas drug task forces in major northern cities in West Virginia, where heroin comes straight into Appalachia through Detroit, Columbus, Chicago and Pittsburgh.


The Department of Health and Human Resources Health Statistics Center shows heroin overdose deaths have nearly doubled since 2010, from 34 to 67 in 2012. Most deceased are between the ages of 25 and 40 and predominantly white. Overdose deaths are also overwhelmingly male. Of the 218 heroin overdose deaths between 2008 and 2012, 166 are male.


Even greater than the increase in deaths, state data shows a huge increase in the number of West Virginians seeking heroin treatment. In 2013, there were 2,029 heroin treatment admissions to Comprehensive Behavioral Health Providers, up from 496 in 2011, according to Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities data.

Legislation in 2012 relating to substance abuse programs and in 2013 relating to overcrowding in prisons have increased funding for substance abuse treatment by more than $10 million, according to DHHR.

Burner said another lifesaving change has been urban ambulances carrying Naloxone (Narcan), a drug used to counter the effects of an opiate overdose. “Urban ambulances are carrying it on board and are able to administer it quickly to overdose cases, but as heroin use works its way down to more rural areas there are more overdose deaths,” he said. Response time for many rural areas can take up to an hour.

West Virginia already has summits and community forums on opiates, and these also address heroin, he said. “We know we cannot arrest ourselves out of this situation. It is going to take community effort through prevention, enforcement and treatment,” Burner said.