New Strategy, Tactics Needed

West Virginia pharmacies dispensed 31.3 million fewer doses of controlled medications, such as opiate painkillers, in 2017 than the previous year. It might be tempting to call that wonderful news, especially as it relates to the fight against the opioid epidemic that has crippled this region.

Here is the catch: The number of overdoses related to opioids is on pace to break a record this year. That is because the substances killing people these days are mainly heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil — illegal drugs that do not pass through a pharmacy.

West Virginia is not alone in this struggle, of course. An Akron, Ohio, school board member was forced to resign last week, after having to be revived when found overdosed in a parked vehicle. He was found with marijuana and fentanyl, and naloxone was used in his revival. The man had just a few months earlier used his position on the school board to advocate for officers who patrol Akron schools to carry naloxone.

The opioid epidemic has evolved from its early days as an oxycontin problem. It has moved past even simple heroin to fentanyl and carfentanil; and all players in the fight against this plague are struggling to keep up.

Meanwhile, however, it must not be forgotten that, even with such a significant reduction in the number of controlled medications dispensed in the Mountain State last year, there were still 236 million doses handed out — more than 118 million opioids. That means “legal” dealers are still distributing the equivalent of 65 doses for every person — adult and child — in the state annually. In fact, there are so many West Virginians hooked on these poisons that last year also saw in increase of 1 million doses for buprenorphine, used to treat opioid dependency.

The fight is changing, calling for new tactics and strategy in a war West Virginia cannot afford to lose.