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Why is the Opioid Crisis in West Virginia so Bad?

West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the US. While the national average is around 16 per 100,000, in West Virginia, more than 40 in 100,000 die of overdose every year and the majority of those deaths are opioid related. Why has the opioid crisis been so bad in West Virginia?

There are several factors at work making the opioid crisis in West Virginia so much worse than other states. The most important factor is probably the nature of West Virginia’s economy. The state is rich in natural resources, especially coal and timber. As a result, a large proportion of people work in these industries and those jobs tend to be labor intensive and dangerous. Workers are more prone to injury and are often prescribed opioid painkillers. Often, the painkillers are overprescribed, especially in the 1990s when the opioid crisis began.

It’s especially important that so many people in West Virginia work in timbering and mining. Not only are these labor intensive jobs with high rates of injury, they often require workers to be away from home for weeks at a time. When someone is injured, he would typically see a camp doctor, whose priority is typically getting the worker back on the job as soon as possible. Instead of prescribing rest, treatment, and rehab, the doctor prescribes opioids and sends the worker back to the mine. Not only are opioids overprescribed as a quick fix, but the stress and loneliness of spending weeks away from home often contribute to addiction.

A high rate of unemployment compounds the problem of overprescription. Losing one’s job has an impact far beyond financial stress. It can lead to anxiety, depression, isolation, low self-worth, and boredom. For someone who may already be developing an opioid addiction, these factors are likely to accelerate the process. The last thing you want if you are taking opioids to treat pain is to be sitting at home feeling bored and worthless.

Dangerous jobs and unemployment helped make the opioid epidemic worse in West Virginia than any other state. Once a high rate of addiction was established, it continued to thrive, and when the supply of pills finally ebbed, addicts turned to heroin.

The other part of the equation in West Virginia is the difficulty of getting treatment. Part of the problem is that most people live in rural areas and the state is mountainous, making access to treatment difficult. West Virginia also does not have much funding for social services, despite being rich in natural resources. If more people are becoming addicted, and hardly anyone gets treatment, the problem will continue to grow. It will probably take a lot of federal funding and political will for West Virginia to dig itself out of its opioid problem. Awareness of the crisis is growing, but there is still a long way to go.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.