Gazette-Mail editorial: Behind virus, unrest, drug problem lurks

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It’s hard to keep public attention focused on one thing for long, especially these days.

West Virginians have seen this before in different phases of the drug and overdose crisis that has gripped the state for years. If bath salts became the focus, it didn’t mean that the problems around methamphetamine had disappeared. If fentanyl was behind a crop of overdoses and became a focal point for law enforcement or legislation, it didn’t mean heroin or pills were no longer an issue.

Now it’s the drug crisis as a whole that has perhaps escaped public notice in West Virginia. The novel coronavirus has killed more than 100,000 Americans and put most of the country on some type of lockdown for months. As states have tried to reopen, it’s been made clear the virus is still very much a problem.

Combine that with unrest over the death of George Floyd and ancillary issues that have grown from racial tension, and it’s clear Americans have a lot on their minds.

Of course, the drug crisis that has killed West Virginians at a higher rate than any other state in the U.S. is still here. In fact, it’s gotten worse very recently.

According to a report from the Gazette-Mail’s Caity Coyne, the 923 emergency calls related to suspected drug overdoses in May marked a 50% increase from the same time last year. It also exceeded the number of overdose calls in any other month over the past two years by 200. Locally, the numbers are up 400%, according to Kanawha County’s Solutions Oriented Addiction Response. And, as the article notes, those are just the overdoses that are being reported. Who knows how many there have been where no one picked up the phone to call 911?

Multiple factors likely contributed to the recent spike, but COVID-19 may be the worst thing to happen to users and those in recovery. With less access to in-person treatment and other resources, the chance for relapse goes up. The coronavirus has played havoc with the mental health and stress levels of a lot of West Virginians. Just imagine what it has done to someone with a chemical dependency, or someone trying to stay clean.

The problem is clear. The tricky part, as always, is what to do about it.

Solutions Oriented has tried to get more naloxone into the hands of users. The group is also calling for more help from the community in both private and public sectors, calling for everyone to be first responders in a fashion, looking after the well-being of those in the thralls of addiction.

Really, that is the solution, now and always. From the very early days of overdose spikes in cities and counties across West Virginia, the most effective programs have been multifaceted — involving harm reduction, access to treatment and support from neighborhoods, businesses and church communities. But, like everything else, it takes long-term focus and commitment.

West Virginians can’t forget those battling addiction, even in times like these.

Funerals for Saturday, July 4, 2020

Hinzman, Mary - 3 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Payne, Gregory - Noon, Brookside Ministries, Mt. Carbon.

Spaur, Annette - 1 p.m., John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.