BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — West Virginians have been under attack by the opioid epidemic for two decades now. Among affected counties in the state, Raleigh County is one of the most vulnerable, state health officials reported.
County officials said the next step is to educate young West Virginians on the dangers of opioid use.
In 1999, before pharmaceutical companies dumped millions of prescription painkillers in the state, West Virginia’s overdose death rate was lower than the national average. In 2010, after the state had dealt with the opioid epidemic for about a decade, West Virginia had the highest rate of overdose deaths and continues to lead the nation.
Substance abuse disorder causes legal problems for many addicted state residents, raising counties’ jail bill costs. Families are also a casualty. West Virginia kids in foster care are now being sent out of state because there aren’t enough state families to meet the demand.
Raleigh Commission President Dave Tolliver said the problem is widespread.
“You’ve got to understand,” Tolliver said. ” I don’t care if you’re the poorest person in the world, or the richest person, opioid [abuse] has affected everyone.”
Tolliver says Raleigh County is expecting a payout of a little more than $1 million from Endo Health System.
The opioid maker has agreed to pay West Virginia, as a whole, $26 million for its role in flooding the state with addictive painkillers and hiding the risks from patients.
Raleigh County was the last county in the state to accept the settlement. County officials say they want to use it to do what pharmaceutical companies have failed to do for West Virginians over the past 20 years.
They want to educate their citizens about the dangers of addictive opioids. Tolliver says one plan is for off-duty deputies to visit district schools to talk with students.
He said the Raleigh Sheriff’s Department and Raleigh Schools are in agreement with the plan.
“I don’t think there will be a problem, once a year, going into each junior high and middle school and high school and make a presentation to the kids about the effects of opioid abuse,” said Tolliver.
Tolliver says county attorney Bill Roop is waiting on official guidance about how the county may spend the money.
After that, Commission will move forward with its own plan for helping to curb the opioid impact in Raleigh County.