West Virginia city's efforts haven't reduced opioid overdoses

As we've discussed in the past, West Virginia, like many states, has a serious problem with prescription opioids and heroin. While many people start out taking prescription painkillers for their intended purpose, they are highly addictive and, like heroin, can result in fatal overdoses.

Huntington has an ever-worsening problem with opioid addiction despite numerous efforts by the justice system and medical community to to get people into drug courts and drug treatment programs. In fact, the city's drug overdose death rate is almost 10 times the average throughout the country.

Since the beginning of this year, Huntington, which has a population of 50,000, has had nearly 800 reported opioid overdoses. That's a 25 percent increase over 2015. On just one day this September, there were 28 heroin overdoses.

Not only is the problem affecting those who take the drugs. It's impacting their unborn babies. Infants are being born addicted to opioids.

Part of the reason for the growing epidemic, according to some addiction specialists and doctors, involves the attitudes towards drug addiction and how to treat it. There are drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine that can help people fight cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms. However, addicts are more likely to be referred to 12-step and other spiritual-based treatment programs.

One Huntington doctor says, "Many people believe that substance abuse is a weakness of personality and that a person needs to get a handle on their disease." He says that some, even members of the medical community, believe "that relying on a drug that replaces the drug of abuse is somehow a weakness."

The director of one clinic that dispenses methadone says that in two years, she hasn't had a single person referred by a doctor. The Huntington doctor, who teaches family medicine at Huntington's Marshall University, says, "Every one of us has biases about the problem. But this epidemic is so severe that we have to get over that."

The director of drug control policy for the Huntington mayor shares that frustration. He says the city is working to reduce prejudice about treating addiction with medication. However, he says that for some people, "the Earth will always be flat."

If a loved one is facing drug charges related to heroin or prescription opioids, your attorney can work to get him or her into a treatment program that makes use of medications to help them battle their addiction.

Source: Portland Press Herald, "West Virginia city’s rampant opioid addiction rates resist treatment," Christine Vestal, Oct. 01, 2016

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