Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Charleston, West Virginia
Situated in Kanawha County, Charleston is the state capital and most populous city in West Virginia. Charleston is currently suffering from large amounts of drug abuse, particularly concerning opioids and methamphetamine. Accordingly, Kanawha County has a significantly higher substance use mortality rate than both the state and national average.
Opioid and Heroin Abuse in Charleston
West Virginia has the highest drug overdose rate in the nation, with nearly 34 deaths per 100,000 people. That is more than twice the national average. According to the Health Statistics Center, nearly 90% of those overdose deaths were caused by heroin and prescription opioid medications, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. In response to these staggering statistics, state and federal regulators, along with local Charleston law enforcement, cracked down on pain management clinics, doctors, and “pill mill” pharmacies that were dispensing opioids without a legitimate medical reason. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources additionally implemented the Opioid Reduction Act, which restricts the number of opioids that physicians can prescribe for acute pain.
As prescription opioids have become less available, West Virginia’s heroin problem has significantly increased. Heroin is an extremely potent drug that is a cheaper alternative to opioid medications and offers a similar high. Additionally, local heroin is being laced with fentanyl and injected by unsuspecting users, increasing chances of overdose and negative health consequences. The CDC identified Kanawha County as one of the 220 counties throughout the nation at particular risk for HIV and Hepatitis C due to heroin and illicit drug use. In 2016, Kanawha County led the state in number of people diagnosed with HIV.
This [HIV outbreak] is a wakeup call – here is yet another impact of the opioid epidemic.
Charleston responded to the potential outbreak by implementing a needle exchange that also offers on-site medical care, Hepatitis/HIV screening, and drug treatment connection services. Numbers show that opioid use is slowly declining within the city of Charleston; however, those same dealers within the area are now starting to replace their opiate supplies with meth.
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The Recurring Threat of Meth
Officials say the number of methamphetamine cases in West Virginia is making a tremendous and deadly comeback. Meth is no longer being produced in household labs like it once was in the 90’s and early 2000’s; instead, it is now being outsourced by huge, “superlabs” in Mexico and China and then carted into the state. Mexican and Asian cartels are able to mass produce a purer and more dangerous form of meth, resulting in higher addiction rates for consumers. The rise of such high purity meth has also led to an increase of meth-related overdoses within the state. According to the West Virginia Health Statistics Center, overdose deaths related to methamphetamine have increased by 500% in just the last four years.
In 2018, police officers seized more than 15,000 grams of crystal meth. The Charleston Police Department reported that they seized more meth than heroin or any other drug in Kanawha County during the year of 2018.
Over the past four to five years, there’s been an increase of crystal meth and a decrease of illicit opioids, and it continues to follow that trend. Meth has become the most prominent drug we see more than anything else at this point.
Most of the meth in Charleston is being imported from cities like Atlanta, Dayton, and Detroit. In response to the increasingly high trafficking rates, the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) is now concentrating on cutting off supplies from these cities in an effort to reduce the threat of meth in the West Virginia area.
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Substance Abuse Statistics in Charleston
26% of the injection drug users in Kanawha County tested positive for Hepatitis C.
During the year of 2018, 700 children were removed from Kanawha County homes due to substance abuse issues.
In 2016, a West Virginian died every 10 hours because of drug overdose.
Finding Treatment in Charleston
If you’re someone struggling with addiction in the Charleston area, know that you’re not alone and that there are options available to you. Charleston is home to over 20 substance abuse treatment service centers, and there are thousands more throughout the state and nation. Rehab centers provide extensive recovery programs for alcohol and drug addictions that include individual counseling, detoxification, and relapse prevention services. Contact a dedicated treatment provider to learn more about your options today.