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A.G. Morrisey Raises Alarm Over Fentanyl Influx Into West Virginia

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (File Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Tuesday that West Virginia is seeing a dramatic uptick in the amount of fentanyl into the state, resulting in a spike of overdose deaths.

“This has been a real problem in our state, but it’s getting a lot worse,” Morrisey said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon to brief the press about the Attorney General’s Office working on a number of opioid-related court cases.

Morrisey said his office penned a letter to President Joe Biden regarding his concerns about fentanyl trafficking. Morrisey said his office is in contact with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency as well.

According to data compiled by the Attorney General’s Office, fentanyl overdose deaths are up in several counties, particularly in southern West Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle. Berkeley County saw a 102% increase in fentanyl deaths, from 46 in 2019 to 93 in 2020. Kanawha County saw a 100% increase, from 76 in 2019 to 152 in 2020.

The largest increase was in Logan County, which saw a 242% increase. Forty-one fentanyl deaths occurred in Logan County in 2020, compared to 12 in 2019.

Mercer County saw a 162% increase, with 34 deaths in 2020 compared to 13 deaths in 2019. According to the report, seven counties exceeded 1-in-1,000 drug deaths, and four counties had higher annual drug deaths than any in the history of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 20 years’ worth of data.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid more powerful than morphine used to treat extreme pain. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is often combined with heroin, but too much fentanyl can cause fatal overdoses.

Morrisey placed the blame for the increase in fentanyl trafficking and deaths on Mexican drug cartels transporting fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs into West Virginia.

“We’re seeing that a lot of that fentanyl, as the administration work acknowledges, is smuggled overland across the southwest border and from the Mexican drug cartels. That’s a pretty big deal. The immigration problems you’re seeing at the border, that actually makes its way back up home here to West Virginia. We need to do something about it.”

Morrisey threatened legal action against the Biden administration for rescinding Migrant Protection Protocols in June, also known as the “remain in Mexico” policy, which sent migrants from Central and South America seeking asylum in the U.S. back to Mexico while they await immigration court proceedings.

“We sent the letter in. We’re waiting for a response,” Morrisey said. “If we don’t hear back soon, we’re very likely to go to court because we think we have an actionable claim as a result of how the Biden administration changed its ‘remain in Mexico’ program. The Biden administration is unfortunately deciding to not prioritize the fentanyl growth and the drug cartel problem.”

According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 6.3% of drug trafficking cases in fiscal year 2020 involved fentanyl, with the number of fentanyl trafficking offenders increasing by 1,890.4% since fiscal year 2016. While 37.3% of fentanyl trafficking offenders were Hispanic, 40.5% were black. More than 83% of trafficking offenders were U.S. citizens.

Morrisey said he was pleased by the news Tuesday that Dr. Rahul Gupta, the former state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health, was nominated by Biden to be the new director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. While with the Department of Health and Human Resources, Gupta oversaw the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

“At least (Gupta) knows West Virginia,” Morrisey said. “I think (the Biden administration) needs to make progress. We’ll work with anyone to try to make things better. I’ve been very worried about the lack of focus coming from the administration. I hope it improves through additional appointments.”


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