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Report: Boone County leads US in per-capita opioid-related costs

The opioid epidemic is costing Boone County’s economy an estimated $206.5 million a year — the highest per-capita burden of any county in America, according to a new report by the American Enterprise Institute.

It’s a staggering cost for a county with 23,645 people in rural Southern West Virginia, a region also struggling with the loss of coal jobs. Boone County’s opioid-related economic cost comes out to $8,734 per person, the AEI study found.

“Quite honestly, I’m surprised that we’re No. 1,” said Kris Mitchell, director of the Boone County Community and Economic Development Corp. “There’s certainly places that struggle as much or more than we do. A lot of the focus seems to be on our problem here, and there’s no denying the state has a problem with opioids, but it’s really a national problem.”

Still, the opioid epidemic has undoubtedly hit West Virginia’s counties the hardest.

According to the study, six of the top 10 counties in the U.S. shouldering the highest per-capita economic cost are located in West Virginia: Boone (No. 1), Cabell (No. 3), Wayne (No. 5), Mingo (No. 7), Summers (No. 8) and Berkeley (No. 9). Those counties also have some of the highest drug overdose death rates in the state.

The study takes into account costs related to the loss of life and decreased productivity in each county, and what’s being spent on health care, criminal justice and substance abuse treatment.

“In West Virginia, the numbers are driven up by the amount of misuse [of drugs] and the amount of fatalities,” said Alex Brill, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

If fatalities were excluded, Boone County’s opioid-related economic costs would drop to an estimated $9.3 million a year, according to the study.

Last month, AEI released a state-by-state analysis that concluded the opioid epidemic is costing West Virginia’s economy an estimated $8.8 billion a year. The Mountain State dedicates the largest share of its gross domestic product — 12 percent — to costs associated with the drug crisis. The 12 percent economic hit is more than double that of any other state.

West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the nation.

In the study released this week, an additional six West Virginia counties rank among the top 20 in the nation for opioid costs per resident: Hampshire (No. 12), Wyoming (No. 15), Pocahontas (No. 17), Mercer (No. 18), McDowell (No. 19) and Webster (No. 20). Also high on the list were Lincoln County (No. 22) and Mason County (No. 30).

On a total cost (not per-capita) basis, Kanawha County’s economy takes an $854 million hit each year from the opioid epidemic, followed by Cabell County, with an $805 million impact, and Berkeley County, at $740 million annually, according to the AEI study.

Since January 2017, dozens of towns, cities and counties in West Virginia have filed lawsuits against drug wholesalers and manufacturers, seeking to recoup costs related to the opioid epidemic. Those cases have been consolidated with similar lawsuits filed in other states. A federal judge in Cleveland is overseeing the litigation.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey also is leading a lawsuit against McKesson Corp., the nation’s largest drug distributor. That case is being heard in Boone County.

The American Enterprise Institute is a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The county-by-county study analyzed data from 2015 and 2016.

“As things have gotten worse, the costs have only gone up,” Brill said.

Outside West Virginia, Harrison County, Kentucky, ranked second in the nation for per-capita opioid costs. Baltimore County, Maryland, was fourth highest.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

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