Pubdate: Sat, 26 Apr 2014
Source: Herald-Dispatch, The (Huntington, WV)
Copyright: 2014 The Herald-Dispatch
Author: Tom Miller
Bookmark: (Heroin)


The number of heroin overdose deaths in West Virginia tripled between 
2007 and 2012 from 22 to 67, according to the latest figures from the 
West Virginia Health Statistics Center. During that same five-year 
period, the number of fatalities caused by prescription pain pills 
declined for the first time in five years.

Those who monitor these statistics say more West Virginia residents, 
just like those in surrounding states, have turned to heroin because 
it is not only cheaper but also often more potent than prescription 

Berkeley County had the highest number of heroin overdose deaths with 
36 residents dying during the five-year period between 2007 and 2012. 
Cabell County - at the opposite end of the state - had the 
second-highest number of heroin-related overdose deaths with 26. 
Monongalia County was third with 15 fatalities during that five-year 
period and Kanawha County was fourth with 13 fatalities.

Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said the state's law enforcement 
crackdown on so-called "pill mills" that are cash-only pain clinics 
that prescribe excessive amounts of painkillers - has led to more heroin abuse.

He said many drug users are "switching to heroin because they can't 
get pills anymore and they're so expensive ... it's sort of like an 
addict's euthanasia. They are switching to heroin and it's killing them."

Between 2011 and 2012, the number of heroin overdose deaths in this 
state jumped from 41 to 67 - an increase of 63 percent. The number of 
these deaths in 2013 will not be released until later this year. And 
while deaths from overdoses of heroin increased in West Virginia, the 
total number of overdose deaths from all drugs dropped from 656 
deaths in 2011 to 588 deaths in 2012.

Overdose fatalities caused by the opiate painkiller known as 
oxymorphone dropped from 181 to 72. Oxycodone-related deaths 
decreased from 223 to 182. And overdose deaths caused by the 
painkiller hydrocodone plunged from 171 deaths to 142 in the same period.

But West Virginia's drug overdose death rate continues to be the 
highest in the United States.  Perdue said this state's "younger 
people are looking for a more vivid high. They are looking for a 
change in reality that's more vivid than what marijuana can bring and 
that maybe OxyContin (oxycodone) can bring. An injectable drug like 
heroin offers that."

Unfortunately, members of the House of Delegates killed two bills 
that were intended to reduce this state's number of drug overdose 
deaths. One would have allowed police, firefighters and other 
emergency service personnel to administer a drug that counters the 
effect of heroin and pain-pill overdoses. The other would have 
created a Good Samaritan Law to protect people from arrest and 
prosecution on drug possession charges when they call 911 to report a 
drug overdose.

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Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health 
Department, and Andrew Whelton, an environmental engineer, are both 
confident with their estimates that close to 100,000 people suffered 
some kind of negative health effect following a chemical leak and 
water contamination on Jan. 9 from a faulty storage tank on the Elk River.

The chemicals overwhelmed filters at the local water plant, 
contaminating tap water for some 300,000 people across a nine-county 
region over the course of several days. When the state Department of 
Health and Human Resources stopped collecting data in late January, 
26 people had been admitted to hospitals and 533 treated in hospitals 
complaining of symptoms they believe were connected to the chemical leak.

However, both Gupta and Whelton believe many people suffered from 
symptoms that they did not believe were serious enough to require a 
trip to the hospital. Whelton, who is also leading a team of 
scientists researching other effects of the spill at the request of 
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said "simply relying on hospital records to 
predict the public health impacts may be extremely misleading."

After the spill, the U. S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention 
collected information from the medical charts of the applicable 
patients to determine if there was a connection. And the state is 
still waiting on that report.

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The separation of church and state was tested again last week in Wood 
County when school officials removed a Bible verse from Parkersburg 
South High School's gymnasium and also from the school wrestling 
team's website. The team's use of Philippians 4:13 drew a complaint 
from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Wood County Superintendent Pat Law told news outlets that the verse 
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," which was 
painted above the doors to the wrestling room in the gym, has been 
removed there as well as from the wrestling team's website, which 
linked to the school website. Patrick Elliott, the foundation's 
attorney, said public schools can't endorse religion.

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Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The 
Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch 
opinion page.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom