Huntington, W. Va., where the rate of drug overdose deaths is nearly 10 times the national average, has done more than most to fight the heroin and prescription painkiller epidemic, reports Stateline. Police have been diverting drug users to specialized drug courts for treatment. The city opened a syringe exchange program to reduce the spread of infectious diseases among drug users. Doctors and nurses from a local hospital developed a model facility to care for the hundreds of opioid-dependent infants born to heroin-addicted mothers.
Instead of getting better, Huntington’s opioid problem is getting worse. In just one afternoon last month, 28 people in the city of 50,000 overdosed on heroin. Since January, 773 people have overdosed on opioids (including prescription painkillers and heroin), a 24 percent increase over last year. An estimated 8,000 Huntington residents are addicted, mostly to opioids. “It’s really an overwhelming situation,” said Dr. James Becker, medical director of West Virginia’s Medicaid program and professor of family medicine at Marshall University. “My best friend’s son just died of a heroin overdose. It is absolutely everywhere in the community.” Nationwide, less than half of the 2.2 million people who need treatment for opioid addiction are receiving it, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Even in Huntington, the barriers are daunting. A fragmented treatment system, widespread bias against addiction medications and a shortage of trained workers often thwart those seeking help.