PETERSBURG, Wv. (WHSV) – The number of monthly drug overdose deaths declined from April 2021 to September 2021 in West Virginia, despite increases in the national average and in other states, such as Virginia.
Preliminary 12-month data on the number of overdose deaths for the nation and each state comes from the CDC. The number of overdose deaths in 2021 in Grant, Hardy and Pendleton counties was also down from 2020.
For years, West Virginia led the nation in drug overdose deaths per capita, but thanks to a multifaceted community response at the state and local levels, things are starting to look up.
“This is kind of a groundbreaking moment for West Virginia and this reduction, as Dr. Matt Christiansen, our Director of Drug Control Policy, has said, shows that our efforts are working,” said Raj Masih, senior regional coordinator of the West Virginia office. drug control policy for the Potomac Highlands Guild.
the Potomac Highlands Guild is a Petersburg-based comprehensive behavioral health center that provides clinical and substance abuse prevention services to eastern West Virginia counties, including Grant, Hardy, and Pendleton.
The organization seeks to address substance abuse issues in a variety of ways.
“Potomac Highlands Guild has a drug assisted targeted treatment program where we use Vivitrol. We use buprenorphine, which is the gold standard for treating opioid use disorder, which people are dying of, and having the ability to expand it to counties in our catchment area has been a game changer,” Masih said.
The organization also seeks to connect people to treatment services in various ways.
“We use digital messaging through a process called Geo-fencing where we can target high-risk areas and sort of send key messages to their tablets, cellphones and computers that say if you have a loved one who needs help. help click here and that immediately connects them to someone they can contact,” Masih said.
Raj Masih says there have been a number of efforts across the state that have helped decrease overdoses, such as a 300% increase in the amount of naloxone dispensed to high-risk individuals. Naloxone is a drug used to reverse an opioid overdose.
Treatment and recovery services and beds have also become more widely available.
“Also, the creation of new jobs through the West Virginia Jobs and Hope program, you know if someone is recovering and that person can no longer find employment because of a crime, because of that background drug use, often they go back to using drugs,” Masih said.
Law enforcement has also played a role in improving addiction recovery in West Virginia.
“Law enforcement is doing some very innovative things like the LEAD program [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion]so for low-level drug crimes, instead of saying we’re going to lock you up for having marijuana in your pocket, we’re getting those people to treatment, connecting them to treatment resources,” said Masih.
The Potomac Highlands Guild has also developed a data-driven overdose predictive model to help them take a proactive approach to preventing overdoses.
“We know that the drug trafficking route in Eastern Begging comes from Maryland, comes from Baltimore County, Washington County, and Frederick County, and when we see a spike in overdose happening in Baltimore County, we now know from our predictive modeling that it takes about 38 hours for it to reach eastern begging,” Masih said.
The Guild receives bad batch alerts on their phones when an overdose spike occurs in an area indicating that there is a drug batch spiked with fentanyl. They then move on to get resources for people at risk of overdose.
“We are in neighborhoods at risk. We’re in homeless camps, handing out naloxone, letting them know a bad batch alert has been detected, trying to link people to treatment. We can now combine them with drug treatment within hours,” Masih said.
The Guild also visits and works with schools and youth organizations begging around to provide educational tools on drug abuse with the aim of preventing the next generation from becoming overdose statistics.
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