Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the life expectancy had declined for Americans due to what has been termed the Deaths of Despair. The three primary contributors to these deaths are suicide, drug overdose and liver failure. Addiction is a key driver of all three. The past two decades have seen almost a million people die due to overdose which also has accounted for close to 2% of all US deaths in 2020. West Virginia has consistently led the nation in the rates of these deaths. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these deaths have skyrocketed with a 50% increase in 2020 for West Virginians.
Beyond deaths, the toll incurred in West Virginia families, communities, workforce, and economy are devastating. Generations have been affected. Children in our state are overrepresented in adverse childhood experiences, and 7,000 find themselves in the foster care system. Employers have a difficult time finding employees who can pass a urine drug screen.
Furthermore, infectious disease associated with substance use is pervasive in West Virginia where we are among the nation’s leaders in hepatitis and are experiencing a terrible HIV outbreak. This will have significant downstream health system and economic consequences, beyond the individual toll. A major healthcare burden in hospital systems is the care of patients that require long-term antibiotics for infections incurred during substance use. This coupled with the expected liver failure from hepatitis B and C will cripple the healthcare system in West Virginia if not addressed.
The good news is that addiction is both treatable and avoidable. Recovery is possible. West Virginia is ground zero for this national problem – we can be a leading source for solutions.
- What are the challenges and barriers that limit people with substance use disorders from getting the help they need?
- How can we best identify children at risk for developing a drug/alcohol problem and provide the necessary support to minimize likelihood of addiction development?
- Alcohol, stimulants, cannabis, and nicotine use are pervasive challenges among college students. How can we successfully address these challenges?
- How do we provide immediate access on demand to addiction treatment and recovery services across West Virginia?
- How do we help to fill the size/scope gaps in our treatment and recovery workforce, which supports the needs of West Virginians of all ages, from children to seniors?
- How can we leverage the business community to support job training/re-training and create employment opportunities for people in recovery?
- How can we better support families and partners of loved ones in treatment or recovery?
- Are there novel methods of treating those with substance use disorders that we should consider piloting?