West Virginians are in pain, and it’s killing us

West Virginia has become the unfortunate poster child for the opioid epidemic in recent years, especially after President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis in late October. Yet sadly, the state's very public struggle with addiction is only part of the tragedy in the Mountain State.

According to a recent study, West Virginians are increasingly battling pain — both physical and emotional — and it is killing us in record numbers.

In November 2017, the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust released a report titled “Pain in the Nation: The Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Epidemics and the Need for a National Resilience Strategy.”

It paints a grim future for the Mountain State and its well-being.

As of 2015, the number of West Virginians who died from opioid overdoses, other drugs, alcohol, and suicide was 67.4 per 100,000 people. Only New Mexico had more deaths.

By 2025, the number of deaths per 100,000 in West Virginia is expected to rise to 99 per 100,000, once again the second highest in the nation.

The dramatic rise is fueled largely by opioid abuse. Yet the opioid crisis is just the public face of a much larger and more pervasive malaise gripping the state.

These deaths are attributable, according to the study, to the so-called diseases of “pain, hopelessness and despair.”

In other words, West Virginians are hurting from physical and emotional pain so much that it’s destroying lives.

“We see the problem evolving in front of our eyes in real time,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, a state health officer and commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health.

Gupta also described the crisis during an interview with Soledad O’Brien in October.

“People were losing hope because of the economy,” he said. ‘They wanted to keep their families together. While all of this was happening people lost jobs.”

Gupta added: “The problem is going to need resources compared to what we have. A lot of communities are doing the best with what we have.”

At the time of the interview with O’Brien in October, Gupta was hopeful that after Trump’s declaration, West Virginia would be able to tap additional federal resources to help West Virginia begin the long process of starting to heal.

However, when Trump finally declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, the directive came with no new funding — other than Trump’s plans to donate his $100,000 3rd-quarter salary to Health and Human Services.

That leaves West Virginians to largely continue, in Gupta’s words, to make do and “do more with less.”