- Rates of death from opioid overdoses in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania are higher than in the rest of the United States. West Virginia’s rate is 35 per 100,000 people. Experts say addressing the underlying socioeconomic problems of communities where this happens is key to solving the issue.
The rates of death from opioid overdoses in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania are all above the national average, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
The study, which focused on the impact of the opioid crisis on the labor market in the fourth Federal Reserve district, which includes parts of all four states, found that while the nationwide rate of deaths from opioid overdoses sits at about 10 per 100,000 people, Pennsylvania’s is about 10.5, Kentucky’s is 20, and Ohio’s is about 22. West Virginia’s is a staggering 35.
The study also showed, as several previous ones also have, that rates of overdose deaths relating to fentanyl have eclipsed those relating to heroin.
Last week, President Donald Trump officially declared the opioid crisis a national public-health emergency.
“As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue,” the president said Thursday. “It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction. Never been this way. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”
The underlying causes of the crisis are many, but high rates of overdose deaths seem to be driven at least partially by high prescription rates. Though heroin and fentanyl deaths have been on the rise, legal opioids still act as a gateway to these drugs, and experts say overprescription often leads to an increased likelihood of addiction. Many states where prescription rates are high, like the four states in the Cleveland Fed study, also have high levels of opioid abuse.
While the Trump administration has announced an increased focus on developing strategies to prevent overprescription, socioeconomic problems like poverty, a lack of economic opportunity, and a lack of health insurance make people more likely to fall into addictive behavior.
Health experts like the Stanford professor Keith Humphreys say tackling the broad opioid issue will require responding to these indirect causes.
“So why are more people dying in West Virginia?” Humphreys told Business Insider. “When people are addicted, they’re far less likely to get treatment – if they have an overdose, they’re far less likely for an ambulance to come. It could be really far away. The services aren’t there. So the same drug problem that is less likely to end up ruining your life if you happen to live in a city that has abundant health services is going to harm you more when you’re living in a low-income rural state like West Virginia, Kentucky, or southern Ohio.”