Despite a downward trend during the summer months, West Virginia experienced a record number of fatal overdoses in 2017, according to data from the West Virginia Health Statistics Center.
While the number of fatal overdoses in the state saw an overall increase, there was a decrease in the number of fatal overdoses caused by heroin. The number of fatal heroin overdoses dropped from 257 deaths in 2016 down to 246 deaths in 2017. This decrease constitutes a reversal in a trend that had seen the number of fatal overdoses caused by heroin increasing in recent years.
West Virginia also saw a decrease in the number of fatal overdoses related to prescription medications. In 2016, there were 120 overdose deaths related to prescription medications, while 82 deaths as a result of prescription-related overdoses in 2017.
However, an increase in the number of deaths caused by fentanyl offset the decrease in the number of fatal overdoses caused by heroin and prescription medications. In 2016, there were 364 people in West Virginia who died of fentanyl overdoses. In 2017, that number climbed to 529 people dying of fatal overdoses as a result of fentanyl,
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is estimated to be roughly one hundred times more potent than morphine. While the United States is currently experiencing a shortage of legal fentanyl, the black market continues to be flooded with illegally manufactured fentanyl.
The increase in the number of fatal drug overdoses was not limited to overdoses caused by opioids, however. Amphetamine-related overdoses increased from 117 to 209 between 2016 and 2017, while overdoses related to methamphetamine almost doubled, rising from 107 to 198 over the same period of time. While not quite so dramatic, overdoses related to cocaine also saw an increase, rising from 157 deaths in 2016 to 187 deaths in 2017.