Drugs are killing so many people in W.Virginia, so many funerals

A man injects himself with heroin using a needle obtained from the People's Harm Reduction Alliance, the nation's largest needle-exchange program, in Seattle.
© David Ryder/Reuters A man injects himself with heroin using a needle obtained from the People's Harm Reduction Alliance, the nation's largest needle-exchange program, in Seattle.

Deaths in West Virginia have overwhelmed a state program providing burial assistance for needy families for at least the fifth year in a row, causing the program to be nearly out of money four months before the end of the fiscal year, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR). Funeral directors in West Virginia say the state's drug overdose epidemic, the worst in the nation, is partly to blame.

West Virginia's indigent burial program, which budgets about $2 million a year for funeral financial assistance, had already been under pressure from the aging of the baby-boom generation. The program offers an average of $1,250 to help cover funeral expenses for families who can't otherwise afford them.

In the current fiscal year ending June 30, "1,508 burials have been submitted for payment through the Indigent Burial Program,” according to Allison Adler, a spokesman for state DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch. “There are funds remaining for 63 additional burials.”

The program has been around for decades, according to Adler, but only began running out of funds starting in 2013. In 2014, the program ran out of money in June. By 2015, the program's budget was depleted by March, similar to where it stands this year.

Adler didn't respond to a question on the role drug overdoses have played in the program running out of money. But funeral directors such as Robert C. Kimes of the West Virginia Funeral Directors Association blame skyrocketing overdose deaths for the current troubles. In 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia's drug overdose death rate stood at 41.5 cases per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in the country and nearly three times the national average. In 1999, the state's overdose fatality rate was below average.

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Nationally, drug overdose deaths accounted for fewer than two out of every 100 fatalities in 2015. But in West Virginia, overdoses claim more than three out of every 100 fatalities. And among certain demographic groups, the likelihood of overdose is much higher: roughly 8 percent of all fatalities among white men age 35 to 64, for instance, and over 28 percent of deaths among white males age 15 to 34.

The state's funeral directors are on the front lines of this trend. “When you get an overdose, typically it's going to be a younger individual who's not financially in a great position,” Kimes said. “I've heard from several funeral directors that the majority of [overdose deaths they deal with] are addressed via the indigent burial program.”

West Virginia is somewhat unique in providing a state-level program for indigent burials, Kimes said. The majority of states don't provide such services at the state level, and most of the ones that do limit them to recipients of Medicaid, SNAP or other social programs for the poor. In many states, funeral assistance is left to the discretion of individual counties or cities.

West Virginia expects a half-billion-dollar budget shortfall in the next fiscal year, making relief from the state unlikely. Social service agencies report being overwhelmed by the number of overdose and addiction cases. In the city of Huntington (population 49,000), for instance, authorities responded to 26 heroin overdose cases in one four-hour span last year.

A Charleston Gazette-Mail investigation last year found that between 2007 and 2012, as the state's drug overdose epidemic skyrocketed, drug wholesalers shipped over 780 million doses of opiate painkillers hydrocodone and oxycodone to the state, or roughly "433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in West Virginia.” Those two drugs killed more than 1,700 West Virginians during that time period, the investigation found.

“That's not the kind of business you want” as a funeral director, Kimes said. “You hate to see a young person's life thrown away.”

Courtesy of MSN

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Oh how I miss W.Va. I have family and friends still there and I hear the stories of the change. The epidemic of H I lay squarely at the feet of the last administration. You can't kill the heart and soul of the mountain folks with a war on coal, a war on their way of life, without consequences. 

I could tell  lot of stories but will spare you. 

I'm going to return to the wild and wonderful mountains suspect by then I will be ash. My partner will spread them.


It's not only the mountains, it's the unique culture, the way of life and, all together, make for an impressive image that's hard to describe, and, in some cases, take you back to centuries ago.....

Lanyon, You got it! 

One of the things so sad I heard from a W.Va. recently that the many family burial plots that one found, not an unusual sight at all -- they were taken care of as if the person(s) buried it happened only recently. My friend said that because of displacements of the peoples in the Mountains that many of these grave sites are totally over grown -- forgotten.

People in the bible belt valued life as well as the memory of persons who died. Peoples who lived back in the hills and hollers having not a pot to pee in would make the coffins to bury their own and no officials from gov't were involved. I know this because my biological father, a coal miner and  preacher was often summoned by the people to say words at the grave sites.

Its a crying shame that even a fund had to exist to bury folks handed out by gov't. This just informs me that the wiping out of a culture of citizens is truly almost complete.

In the last two decades we spent a lot of time visiting W.Va. each time my heart was broken.

I fear the Mtn. state will be co-opted by gentrification of the more wealthy, the over class. We could see that possibility during our visits.

It's too bad that the universities have been following the Marxist doctrine of "divide and conquer" because the young generations would be ideal for the continuance of cultural values; the past 8 years were purposely divisive, but maybe the next 4 yrs someone will step up and do the right thing. I've witnessed this with Indian tribes in the Western US and in Latin America, where the language and cultural values are disappearing, as well as the elders who have treasured all this for past generations, and the tribe is dwindling in numbers.

This is a perfect example of "obamba-ism"; i.e., Regulating the economy to death, sector by sector.

When you take hope in the future away from folks, terrible things happen . . . 

  It appears that this chart is mixing illicit drug over doses with legal drug overdoses.  There needs to be a distinction made between the two.  I may be wrong, but I believe that overdose deaths caused by legal painkillers is more likely far, far less than those from illicit drugs and their users/addicts.  The influx of illicit drugs must stop.  However, it is important to understand that there are many patients out in the world that do depend on prescription pain killers that provide them the ability to function in normal day to day living.  Some states like Tennessee, in order to curb the overdose deaths caused mostly by illicit drugs, passed legislation that make doctors afraid to prescribe opiate pain killers even to their patients that require them, fear of investigation and revocation of medical practice licenses.  Legal opiate pain killers were designed and are manufactured for those who are in constant pain, and believe me, there are many.  People who overdose on illicit or even stolen legal drugs do so, because they lack responsibility.  The medical, law enforcement, education and even governmental agencies have been warning about the dangers of drugs for over 50 years.  No one in the United States of America can say they never heard the warnings, at least not with a straight face.  There are only 2 ways to become addicted to illicit drugs, one is having a complete lack of self responsibility and purposely paying no heed to the warnings, and two, having been forced to use illicit drugs.  Those who for some reason do not exercise personal responsibility are not the responsibility of the rest of us.  Those who were forced into illicit drug use are victims of this permissive society we all have to live with, and it is shameful that that should happen to anyone.  The state and federal governments cannot stop the use of illicit drugs by keeping legal pain killers from patients who require them.  By the same token, state governments who are allowing the free use of marijuana or contemplating passing legislation that will allow it, can't possibly claim that they are against the use of illicit drugs, period. Is there a happy medium to this situation?  Can a solution to the influx of illicit drugs be found, that does not deprive the patients requiring use of legally prescribed pain killers?  I don't have those answers, but I do know one thing for sure, punishing all of the people because of the misbehavior of a view will not work.  Taking away prescription pain killers from those who need them will do nothing but force a rise in the demand for the illicit drugs.

Whether prescribed or illicit the overdose rates are very high across the USA. One causal affect is the obamba-economy and the lack of hope for the future . . . It will be quite interesting if our economy comes back to life to look at these statistics in a few years.

My guess is there is a direct correlation between an economy being regulated to death and a growing economy.


I believe there is a noted difference in the numbers of death overdose between illicit and legal drugs.  You may be right about the economy, but I look at it this way.  Local taverns and bars do their biggest business when the economy takes a down turn, and when it takes an upturn.



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