Heroin Epidemic in West Virginia – Research Paper


Heroin has alwas posed a threat in the United States and in the entire world at large. However, the level of threat posed varies from region to the other depending on dependent variables. The threat posedby heroin to West Vigeniahas always been low but over the resent past, it has been steadily increasing to the point where heroin is now perceived as an epidemic (Mistich, 2015). increasing threat to West Virginia. The state as well as the local law enforcement officials havereported that heroin abuse in some West Virginia cities, such as Martinsburg and Weirton, is increasing at alarming rates. This increase is attributed to heroin being used as a substitute OxyContin (Wallace, 2014).

Heroin has limited availability throughout the state with the South American heroin being the most readily available type. Other types of heroin distributed in Wet Viginia, in limited quantities, are produced in Southwest and Southeast Asia,and Mexico. Transportation and distribution in West Virginia is mainly done by independent dealers, street gangs, and limply organized criminal groups. Heroin is usually transported into the state from other states including New York,  Detroit, North Carolina, Cleveland, and  Washington, via private vehicles. Once in West Viginia, heroin is retailed at drug markets, hotel rooms, bars, and  privateresidences.

Law enforcement reports indicate that there has ben a rising rate of heroin abuse in some areas of West Virginia over the recent years. Violent Crime Task Force as well as the Hancock-Brooke-Weirton Drug officials reports indicate that there is a high heroin abuse rate in theirjurisdiction (Mistich, 2015). According to the reports, nearly 80% of the overall investigations carried out by the task force in 2002 were related to heroin. Barboursville, Parkersburg, and Martinsburg law enforcement officers reports also show that those areas have high heroin abuse rates. The high and increasing abuse levels in these areas are attributed to reduced availability of OxyContinas a result of proactive law enforcement. Lack or scasityocOxyContin  has forced a significant number of OxyContin abusers to start using heroin instead.

Thenumber of youths reported to be abusing heroin in West Virginia is similar to that of youths abusing heroin nationwide. In 1999, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS) reported that 3.1% of high school students in West Virginia reported to having had abused heroin at some point in their lifetime as compared to the nationwide 2.4% figure (Mistich, 2015). Just like in most areas, West Virginia’sheroin abusers mainlydispense the drug through injections, though younger abusers prefer snortting or smoking the drug in order to avoid contracting communicable diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis. Majority of these young abusersmisguidedlysuppose that smoking or snorting does not result in addiction (Wallace, 2014). However, treatment reports indicate that majority of these young abusers get addicted within the first 6 months of initial use and they end up injecting the heroin in order to get a greater high.

Since the legalization of drugs as prescription painkillers in mid 90s, the number of drug overdose related deaths in the U.S. has more than tripled. West Virginia is among the states with the highest rise in such death rates, over the past few years it has registered the highest drug overdose related deaths nationwide. Available data indicate that heroin abuse in West Viginia levels have been fluctuating over the years. Treatment data between 1998 and 2000 suggested that heroin abuse was generally low with only 214 cases reported in 1998, 138 cases reported in 1999, and 160 cases reported in 2000 ((Mistich, 2015).Males accounted for a greater number of the overall heroin-related treatment admissions than females, about 59%.

More recently, heroin has taken the center stage after law enforcers cracked down doctors who have been overprescribing painkillers, which has not only made it easier for addicts to gain access to drugs but has also inhibited the success of rehabilitation programs. Although prescription-painkiller deaths have declined over the past five years, heroin-overdose deaths in West Virginia have tripled over the same period, since 2010. This rise has been attributed to a number of factors, such as negligent doctors, law enforcement, and pharmaceutical companies. Personal decisions by the addicts were found to have very little influence on this trend.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources’ (DHHR) Drug Overdose Database indicate that heroin has caused over 600 deaths in West Virginians since 2001. Between 2001 and 2006, DHHR data shows that there were 15 reported heroin overdose deaths annually in West Virginia. However, this number increased to almost double, to 22, between 2006 and 2007. In 2008, that number shot once again to 38 deaths per year but this leveled off and remained steady till 2011. In 2011, there were 41 reported heroin overdose deaths. Since 2011, heroin overdose deaths have risen to an alarming number, 67 in 2012, 157 in 2013, and 157 implied for 2014 (Mistich, 2015).

The Herald-Dispatch recently conveyed that in 2015, Cabell County has reported heroin overdose deaths that are nearly 13 times more than the national average. This has put the county on track to break the overdose deaths in a year record. It is thus clear that heroin is increasingly becoming a problem in West Virginia.

Recommended Strategies

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a multilayered approach should be adopted during recovery from heroin addiction. The institute is a critical proponent of the cognitive behavioral therapy, a technique that centers on the mental causatives of the abuse, just as are the support groups. The cognitive behavioral therapy gets a patient to appreciate the reason for abusing heroin thus allowing for lifestyle and behavioral and attitude changes with regards drugs. Ultimately, the recovering addict amasses the requisite tools and social skills for better coping with stressors that could lead them back to heroin abuse(Drake, Wallach, &McGovern, 2014).Medication has proven beneficial in dealing with heroin addiction despite opposition from some people. It is crucial during detoxification as some of these drugs are beneficial, considering the chemical and physical changes in the brain that make normal functioning difficult without medical intervention during the initial recovery stages.

The ever rising heroin abuse cases and higher rising death rates are a major area of concern. In West Virginia, heroin overdose deaths have risen from 15 to 151 cases per year over the past 15 years. This is an alarming rate if increase, which if not addressed could have a significant impact on the state’s health and economic development. Consequently, strategies to lower the number of heroin related deaths in West Viginia are implemented. The two recommended strategies include imposing harsher penalties to any heroin dealer that deals to an addict in recovery and also introducing better rehab programs that will help addicts stay accountable to aid in their successful recovery.

Imposing harsher penalties to any heroin dealer that deals to an addict in recovery

Recovering addicts are constantly at the risk of relapsing. Recovering from heroin  addiction is among the most difficult ordeals individuals have to go through and since they not only have to learn to adapt to living without the high but also have to resist the temptation of relapsing. Failure to adapt and temptation to fall back into their old lifestyles due to availability of the drug are among the main causes of relapse. Consequently, it is important that there the state imposes strict and tougher regulations in order to discourage the supply of the drug.

Historically, the easier it is to access drugs, the higher the chances that one will use them. This is especially true for the recovering addicts. Therefore, cutting the availability of heroin to recovering addicts is likely to lower the risk of relapsing and thus reducing heroin abuse and heroin related deaths. One of the ways that the state government can ensure that there is reduced drug availability among recovering addicts is by interdicting the drug distribution process. Distributing drugs is a rather profitable business, which makes it harder for drug dealers to look out for the good of the drug users including the recovering addicts. However, imposing harsher penalties to any dealer caught distributing the drug to recovering addics will discourage dealers from supplying the drug.

As noted earlier, the availability of heroin aremains limited throughout thestate. According to reports of a study conducted by National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTS) in 2002, 21 of the total 28 West Virginia law enforcement officials who participated reported that heroin availability in their various jurisdictions was low. Only a few respondents, those from Wayne;Glenville; Moundsville; Barboursville; andCharleston, reported moderate heroin availability levels. Aparticipant reported that Martinsburg has a high level of heroin availability (Mistich, 2015).

The law enforcement and measures put in place to curb heroin distribution seem to be wanting. In West Viginia,law enforcement officials only seized 0.1 kilogram of heroin between 1998 and 2002 (Mistich, 2015). The percentage of heroin-related sentences in West Virginia, 5.9%, was lower than that of the entire country, 7.2%. These figures are very low as compared to the reported heroin abuse prevalence in West Virginia. Consequently, there is a need to enact strict regulations. Continued development of laws and enforcement protocals are essential aspects of reducing availability of drugs among recovering addicts. Since heroin distribution in West Virginia is conducted by street gangs and loosely organized groups, monitoring and confronting distributers is not only feasible but it will also not be an priceyundertaking. This makes it an action worth undertaking.

Introducing better rehab programs that will help addicts stay accountable to aid in their successful recovery

Research shows that any addict’s successful recovery is founded on accountability. A recovering addict has to be accountable to everyone whose life is affected by the addict’s behavior including himself/herself, to his/hersponsers, fellow addicts, and friends and loved ones. This form of accountability has to be built around the community for it to be effective. Once recovering addicts connect with an engaged community, they are more likely to have access to information and resources they require to recover from the addiction.

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