Speaker discusses Mountain State’s drug problem at D&E

ELKINS — Davis & Elkins College students as well as members of the community heard about the opioid epidemic in West Virginia from a guest speaker Thursday.

During a presentation, Dr. Chris White, professor of history at Marshall University and an author, elaborated on data regarding overdose-related deaths collected between 2016 and 2017, which he received from the state’s registrar’s office.

“This is where they actually collect the overdose data from the toxicology report, so any time somebody dies from an overdose in West Virginia, their blood is drawn and they do a (toxicology) screen to come up with the types of drugs in (the person’s) system,” he explained.

White noted he examined drug overdose data over the course of 16 years, stressing there were hundreds of types of drugs found in the systems of individuals who had overdosed in this time frame.

“There are 304 different types of drugs found in the blood of our dead — 304 different types of drugs registered by the state registrar’s office, by the state medical examiner,” he said.

In these deaths, the leading three were Xanax, or alprazolam, number one; oxycodone, number two; and valium, or diazepam, number three.

“This is just the past couple years, 2017 and 2016. What you’ll notice if you look at the data is, as the drug war as escalated, as they’ve targeted certain drugs, pharmaceuticals are actually being pushed down and street drugs are coming into the frame,” White said. “From my perspective, it’s not a good guys versus bad guys thing, it’s really our entire society that we have to work on — we have to improve it.”

In addition, White discussed and made reference to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.

“The test is 10 questions and they ask you about various experiences you had when you were a child. It’s very widely valued. … The higher your score, the more likely you are to be a drug user,” he said.

The ACE score can range from “0”, meaning no exposure to the 10 categories of child abuse and trauma investigated by the study, to “10”, meaning exposure to all 10 categories, according to acestudy.org.

White stressed that West Virginia has the highest average ACE score among all states in the country.

He added he believes one way to address the drug epidemic is to look at the ways other counties in the world are successfully addressing similar issues.

“We need an evidence – approach to try to understand how to actually address this real drug problem that we have,” he said. “There are ways to actually address this and that is by looking to countries that have done differently than the United States and states that have done differently than West Virginia, and we need to look at what we have been doing that has helped to improve the situation.”

White said he believes promoting the strengths and benefits West Virginia has to offer could also be beneficial.

“There are methods that we could use that could actually reduce the situation here,” he said. “I think we should promote things like tourism, the assets that we have here in West Virginia. The culture is really appealing to a lot of people outside the state, the nature that we have, and of course, the people. … We should be emphasizing the future of our youth by pouring investments into the people who are between zero and 18 right now.”