The Roanoke Times’ Sept 9 report of a $20.4 million federal grant to the state of Virginia to combat the opioid epidemic is welcome news (“Virginia to receive $20.4 million from Trump administration to fight opioid addiction”). Since the beginning of the opioid epidemic in the United States during the 1990s, the region of Appalachia has been a hot spot for substance misuse and drug-related deaths. Opioid addiction ruins lives and the risk of disease or overdose is inherently high.
In 2016 the Virginia Health Commissioner declared a public health emergency due to the epidemic of the opioid crisis. As the Washington Post reported, Amber Wood, a resident of Lebanon, Va., has suffered from opioid addiction since she was 13 years old. At the age of 26 and as a single mother, she was arrested and detoxed in jail. She has been in recovery for 29 months, is training to be a peer recovery specialist, and when asked about her situation said, “There’s hope. There’s another side of addiction. You can get clean and have a productive life.”
In Appalachia, opioids have higher rates of overdose than the remainder of the nation. Over the 18-year span between 1999 and 2017 in West Virginia, the deaths attributed to opioids occurred at a rate of 49.6 deaths per 100,000 people. This number towers over the national average of 14.6 deaths per 100,000. The regional patterns of high unemployment rates, high job-related injury rates and low education rates found in Central and Northern Central Appalachia foster an environment that increases risk for opioid misuse.
The only way that this epidemic will come to an end is through preventative action and retrospective treatment that this grant will enable the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to offer. Society has turned its back on those suffering with addiction, but opioid addiction is a disease and treatment options should be made more readily available. The cost of inpatient rehabilitation is too expensive for most opioid abusers to afford without quality insurance. Government funding for affordable rehabilitation programs will ensure that people seeking recovery have the help they need.