Communities are getting smaller in West Virginia. The reason: a rise in substance abuse, which has led to more deaths in the Mountain State than firearms and traffic accidents combined. Leading the nation in drug overdose deaths per capita, West Virginia is struggling to quell the surge in opioid addiction. It’s being called the “epidemic of epidemics,” one that is dismantling families and devastating communities.
West Virginia isn’t alone in this national crisis. Across the country, states are grappling with a rise in drug overdoses, due in part to an increase in opioid usage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the opioid crisis is killing nearly 100 people a day. In 2016, 818 people in West Virginia fatally overdosed from drugs, 86 percent of which involved at least one opioid, according to the West Virginia Health Statistics Center. Not only is substance abuse costing people their lives, it's becoming costly to small and large communities alike, with states struggling to support the needs of those facing addiction, as well as the growing death toll. United Ways across the nation are joining the fight.
In West Virginia, United Way of the River Cities is mobilizing health and financial resources to create solutions around substance abuse. Of note is their work through the Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership (CCSAPP), a coalition fighting to reduce substance abuse via partnerships and community ownership. Through CCSAPP, United Way is raising community awareness; promoting efforts to decrease risk factors; increasing protective factors for youth; and developing youth leaders to be a positive influence in the community, and to educate their peers through environmental change and evidenced-based strategies.
In New Hampshire, Granite United Way has worked in a collaborative effort with local fire departments, social service providers and community leaders to address the substance misuse issue. This program, called “Safe Station,” encourages those struggling with substance misuse to walk into any firehouse in Manchester for immediate connection to the recovery treatment they need. Granite United Way has also made significant strides in the areas of preventative prescription drug take-back initiatives, Narcan dispensing and education, and 2-1-1 NH is positioned as a statewide resource for those seeking information on treatment and recovery services.
And in Indiana, United Way of the Wabash Valley is supporting United Against Opioid Abuse, a three-year statewide effort to prevent opioid abuse and support those in recovery. United Way will host a trained AmeriCorps member who will coordinate a local landscape scan to gauge the extent of the opioid issue locally, as well as help document the efforts currently in place to combat the problem.
The fight to end the opioid epidemic is a formidable one, but with the concerted efforts of United Way and community partners, hope is on the horizon. If you or someone you know is dealing with substance abuse, please call 2-1-1 or visit www.211.org to get connected to a local counselor.