Ahead of the release of a report that said overdoses jumped 58% in West Virginia last year, West Virginia’s attorney general said legal action against the Biden administration could be forthcoming if it does not better address an uptick of fentanyl overdoses.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey made the statement at the state Capitol Complex on Tuesday while updating media about state opioid litigation.
The federal government released a report Wednesday that said opioid overdoses soared to a record 93,000 in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, marking a 29% increase. It is an average of 250 deaths a day, or about 11 an hour. A total of 1,377 West Virginians died due to overdoses in 2020, a 49.3% increase from 2019.
The opioid epidemic started about 10 years ago with prescription painkillers, but once the number of pills decreased, people with opioid use disorder turned to illicit drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl, which currently fuel the fire.
Fentanyl marked more than 60% of the overdose deaths in 2020.
Morrisey said a letter was written to the Biden administration after law enforcement in the state saw a dramatic increase in fentanyl in the area.
“We’re seeing that a lot of that fentanyl, as the administration acknowledged, is smuggled over land across the Southwest border, and for the Mexican drug cartels, that’s a pretty big deal,” he said.
He said the fentanyl travels to the Detroit and Columbus areas before coming to West Virginia. To stop this, security at the borders needs to be tightened, he said.
Morrisey said court action is likely if the administration does not respond to his concerns soon.
“The Biden administration, unfortunately, is deciding to not prioritize the fentanyl growth and the drug cartel problem. And we need to make sure we change that,” Morrisey said.
Morrisey said the administration has been lax on drug policies, but after the appointment of former West Virginia top health official Dr. Rahul Gupta as the country’s drug czar, he hopes it will set a new tone in addressing the opioid crisis in West Virginia.
In a separate statement, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the news underscores a need for a meaningful Legislature to address the opioid epidemic.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly had an impact on the drastic increase in overdose deaths, we cannot ignore this epidemic and hope it will go away as we continue to vaccinate Americans and bring an end to this pandemic,” Manchin said. “We must provide funding for substance use treatment centers and permanently schedule illicit fentanyl.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said it’s clear the administration had no plan to address illegal immigration, on which the elected official placed blame.
“We’re not disrupting the drug traffickers that are killing Americans, killing families, wrecking communities,” she said. “This is why I care … because it is a very sad and devastating consequence of the deluge of people that are coming.”