West Virginia and the National Opioid Crisis


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Late last month, President Trump declared a National Public Health Emergency to address the seemingly unstoppable opioid crisis. With staggering death tolls and no sign of letting up, this plague on American society is finally being addressed, but not before claiming the lives of tens-of- thousands of users.

West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the union, leads the nation in overdoses and has subsequently become the elephant in the room challenging President Trump’s humanitarian action. While the situation is relatively bleak, heightened efforts by this administration may provide some hope on the horizon for the “Mountain State.” What, then, does the declaration achieve? Sadly, not much.

The White House’s official website explains that it only really accomplishes two things – sets up the framework for a Disability-esque program, and loosens funding directed to HIV/AIDS. The former is actually quite an interesting proposition. In their own words, it “allows the Department of Labor to issue dislocated worker grants to help workers who have been displaced from the workforce because of the Opioid crisis, subject to available funding.” Note that last condition though because this sets up a program, but does not automatically allocate any set amount of funding to the program.

With all of this being said, the declaration is little more than for show and it is what this Administration is doing behind the scenes that have really been of value. Since the 2016 election, more than $1 Billion has been invested in solving this epidemic. With most of the money going to treatment and recovery, approximately $100 Million has been devoted to multi-agency research and prevention campaigns in the attempt to control Opioid abuse.

West Virginia serves as an immovable object combating this financial governmental force. The state has been combating an Opioid crisis for over a decade and has shown no signs of victory. Business Insider notes that West Virginia has a particular problem with Opioid abuse due to the conditions of its workforce. Two key factors causing the Opioid crisis in the state stem from unemployment, and the prevalence of blue-collar jobs in the region .

How exactly do these lead to getting hooked on Opioids? As shown in a survey by The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, unemployment is directly linked to an increase in drug abuse which can be attributed to too much time on one’s hands. This, however, is a nationwide phenomenon, it’s the blue-collar labor force that hinders any attempt to reduce West Virginia’s addiction to Opioids. The state’s economy relies heavily on the coal and timber industries (as evidenced by then-candidate Trump’s donning of the mining helmet during his Charleston, WV campaign speech).

When a miner is injured on the job, it typically isn’t just a paper cut. The severity of injury has even led West Virginia’s primary Workers’ Compensation Insurance Carrier, Brickstreet Mutual, to open an entirely new division specifically for ensuring mines. These injuries generally require painkillers (the most common opiate excluding heroin), and with a high supply of these types of workers, it is easy to see how the state got hooked.

Fear not, salvation is on the way, and it comes in the form of attention.

America has been in a consensual relationship for centuries with Opioids. Think back to the opium dens of the Wild West era or the mass influx of morphine brought home by GIs from WW2 in the 40s. The big difference now is that we are aggressively addressing it. Crack cocaine was a similar epidemic in the recent past, but it died out quickly due to the limelight.

When you get a populace sufficiently disgusted by the thought of using crack, you get what can only be described as a miracle for inner-city residents. The hope for the Opioid epidemic is that it follows the same path to minimization, and for many West Virginians, it is the only hope they have.



Photo Credit: Elizabeth Roy


Tanner is a born-and-raised West Virginian. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from West Virginia University and currently works as an Actuary. His interests include politics, physical fitness, professional soccer, and corgis.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Tanner Mann

West Virginia University

Tanner is a born-and-raised West Virginian. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from West Virginia University and currently works as an Actuary. His interests include politics, physical fitness, professional soccer, and corgis.

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