West Virginia Overdose Deaths Up 15% in 2016

April 17, 2017

The number of reported overdose deaths that occurred last year in West Virginia has continued to rise.

Citing data released March 22, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that at least 844 people died in the state of drug overdoses in 2016.

That number is a 15 percent increase over 2015’s tally of 731 drug deaths, West Virginia’s previous all-time high. The state’s overdose death rate still far outpaces any other state in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia’s drug overdose death rate was about 41.5 cases per 100,000 in 2015. The next highest states were New Hampshire (34.3 per 100,000) and Kentucky (29.9 per 100,000).

Fatal overdoses related to fentanyl, an opioid that’s 100 times stronger than prescription morphine, have fueled a 46 percent increase of overdose deaths in the state in just four years. Drug traffickers often mix fentanyl with heroin. About 86 percent of the deaths in 2016 involved at least one opioid, The Register-Herald reported.

“We are seeing an unprecedented rise in the overdose deaths related to opioids,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health. “It seems we have not yet peaked.”

The West Virginia Health Statistics Center compiles the state’s overdose data from death certificates certified by the chief medical examiner. Additional deaths are expected to be added to the total in the coming weeks.

“As of 2015, a West Virginian was dying every 12 hours around the clock,” Gupta said. “That number did not get any better in 2016. We are on pace to have a West Virginian dying every 10 hours in 2016.”