Why are drugs so common in Appalachia and what effect does that have on the region?
While volunteering at my local hospital in the labor and delivery department, I saw many instances where mothers who had abused drugs when pregnant got to take home their babies. A classmate of mine also died in a car wreck while under the influence of drugs.
DRUG ABUSE IN APPALACHIA TIMELINE
The prevalence of drug addiction and abuse in Appalachia has been an increasing problem. This timeline will take you through the sequence of drug-related events in the region from the late 1990s to 2014 and give you an overview of the intensification of this issue.
1990- In the late 1990s, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, aggressively marketed the pill to doctors in Appalachia, where injuries from hard-labor jobs often produce chronic pain.
1996- In 1996, OxyContin was at $48 million in sales.
1999- Over one fifth of America’s opiate-related deaths since 1999 have been accounted for by the seven states of Appalachia; Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania,Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
2000- In 2000, OxyContin sales grew from $48 million to $1.1 billion. After the epidemic was ignited, opiate abuse spread to far more drugs including methadone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and heroin.
2000- Since 2000, the national drug overdose death rate has increased by 137 percent.
2004- In 2004, OxyContin became the most abused drug in the U.S.
2008- In 2008, Wilkes county in North Carolina tried Project Lazarus. This treatment program changed the way professionals went about educating and treating their residents. They provided free naloxone which is a drug that reverses the effects of opioid and heroin overdoses.
2009- West Virginia saw 9 deaths due to heroin overdoses.
2010- In Portsmouth, Ohio, nearly 1 in 10 babies tested positive for drugs.
2011– 42 deaths in Kentucky were due to heroin overdoses.
2012- In Kentucky, heroin overdoses accounted for 129 deaths in 2012.
2012- West Virginia saw 67 heroin overdose deaths in 2012.
2014- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the death rate due to drug overdose was the highest its ever been in 2014 weighing in at 47,055 deaths. 61percent were related to opiate abuse. Appalachia accounted for 22 percent of those opiate related deaths. This is shocking considering the fact that during this time Appalachia represented only 20 percent of the U.S. population.
These hard hitting facts provide backing for the common stereotype that Appalachia is a region with serious drug addiction. With that being said, new treatment facilities are being built and action is being taken to put an end towards the devastating epidemic so that people can see past this issue and appreciate the hardworking, dedicated people of Appalachia
Getting To Know the Problem
Disease, war, famine, poverty, depression, ruts, emptiness. These issues are not selective. They do not apply to a certain race or gender. Americans, Europeans, Africans, and anyone who is a member of today’s society can attest to having to withstand the hardships of daily life. With the pain that accompanies these hardships, an outlet seems necessary. But what is the degree to which these outlets are considered necessary or even legal?
For some, they rely on coffee as an outlet from the fatigue that they experience through the daily stress of work and relationships. For others, they take a healthier route and rely on exercise, while some people rely only on fatty foods for comfort. Video games, religion, soda, social media, and sugar are all addictive outlets that humanity resorts to as an escape from daily adversity. What about the more serious types of outlets that people use and abuse?
Sometimes, coffee and fatty foods just don’t cut it. Every so often, the stress of life requires a little more edge than just a sugar rush. Alcohol and drugs become a last resort before suicide to take away the pain of everyday life and provide an alternative world to escape to.
Opiate prevalence entered this region at the turn of the 21st century. Opioids are psychoactive substances derived from the opium poppy, or their synthetic analogues. Around 69,000 people die each year from abusing the substance and over 15 million people suffer from addiction. The majority of that number are dependent on prescribed opioids. These drugs affect a part of the brain that regulates breathing, so overdosing on these can send one into respiratory distress and even death. If combined with alcohol or sedatives, there is an increase in the possibility of overdosing. Naloxone is an antidote for opioid overdose and directly reverses the effects of the drugs. In order to limit the amount of deaths involved with these substances, it is important for a region to have treatment centers. It is also important to monitor the prescription from health care facilities.
In 1996, OxyContin was at $48 million in sales. That number grew to $1.1 billion in sales in 2000. In 2004, OxyContin became the most abused drug in the U.S. After the epidemic was ignited, opiate abuse spread to far more drugs including methadone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and heroin. But drugs do not come cheap. As a result, people have resorted to prescription painkillers in order to satisfy their addiction for less money. One state has had success in repairing this epidemic; North Carolina. In 2008, Wilkes county tried Project Lazarus. This programmed changed the way professionals went about educating and treating their residents. They provided free naloxone which reverses the effects of opioid and heroin overdoses.
Some areas of the world seem to have more problems with addictions to these substances than others. For example, Appalachia is a case of extreme drug and alcohol abuse. Specifically, in West Virginia, drug abuse is a resonating concern. The state has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the U.S. The national number of overdose deaths per 100,000 is 13.4, but West Virginia’s does more than double that number. The overdose death rate is 34 per 100,000. These astonishing numbers are disheartening. With these hard-hitting facts, it is no surprise that Appalachia is stereotyped as a region with major drug addiction problem.
Over one fifth of America’s opiate-related deaths since 1999 have been accounted for by the seven states of Appalachia; Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The national drug overdose death rate has increased 137 percent since 2000. The numbers continue to get worse: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the death rate due to drug overdose was the highest its ever been in 2014. 47, 055 people were killed and out of those deaths 61 percent were related to opioids. More devastating for Appalachia was the fact that the region accounted for 22 percent of those opiate-related deaths. This is shocking considering the fact that during this time Appalachia represented only 20 percent of the U.S. population. This issue only seems to be heightening. So finding the push factors that lead people to drug abuse is necessary to discontinue the sticky trend. Many researchers believe that Appalachian addiction stems from poverty and lack of education.
Not only do drugs put one’s health in distress, they also put the economy in quite a predicament. People who have a history of drug abuse are haunted by their past for the rest of their lives and unable to find businesses that will employ them. This is a problem because those people rely heavily on government funds to stay afloat. They may also feel useless due to the fact that they cannot provide for their family, leading them to a state of depression and channeling them back to drugs in order to escape their dark period of life. Drugs also affect other parts of the economy such as the criminal costs and the treatment costs associated with addiction. In West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky the total loss of revenue due to criminal justice costs, loss in worker productivity, and treatment weighs in at a whopping $2.72 billion annually. To me, it seems as though we could not only help our economy, but help our citizens by building treatment centers instead of losing so much money per year.
Obama recognized West Virginia’s problem with opioid addiction and decided to take action. He allotted $1.7 million across the state to go towards treatment centers and helping Appalachia. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is investing $94 million in the health clinics, and expects to help them hire about 800 providers to treat nearly 124,000 new patients. This small glimpse of hope gives Appalachia a stronger future in fighting the common drug problem.
There are four steps in the treatment process: intake, detox, rehab, ongoing recovery. In the first step, intake, one has to decide if rehab is the right option for them. It is important to know that different treatment programs and facilities work better for some than others. There is no one-size-fits all solution and as a person grows their treatment plan is open to change. Addiction not only affects behavior, it affects the brain. Mental health conditions often lead to addiction, so those issues also need to be addressed in treatment. The second phase, detox, is part of the treatment where one gets rid of all traces of drugs in the body. Sometimes medication is used to make this process easier and to help one experiencing withdrawals. Withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to headaches, seizures, heart attacks, agitation, sweating, and hallucinations. This step is only part of the treatment and does not ensure that the patient will be clean without continuing through the whole process. Rehab, the next step, is where patients pick apart the reason behind addiction. This step assures that the patient can return to life without having their background draw them back into the world of addiction. Recovery, the final step of the process, is lifelong and ongoing work. This step offers assistance with the transition of being thrown back into their “normal” world. There are both inpatient and outpatient services provided by treatment programs. There are also different types of therapy including group, family, and behavioral therapy.
An Appalachian woman named Ashley who is also a recovering heroin addict shares her story about getting clean and remaining sober for her three children. She gives the perspective of an Appalachian woman experiencing this issue first hand. She says that state and federal officials refuse to pay for treatment even though it is more effective and less expensive than jailing addicts. She contributes the problem to drug companies that market their products heavily in the region and to employers who pay for worker’s compensation and provide cheaper drugs instead of physical therapy for injured workers. She also places the blame on drug dealers and others who give people drugs to “help” them. Last but not least, she adds that there is a general sense of hopelessness in the region and that lost sense of hope is replaced with drugs. But what about personal responsibility? Can we really blame others or is it something that one does to themselves? With this insider’s look on the foregrounds of drug addiction, will Appalachia ever become clean?
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