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Cabell County’s soaring drug deaths hard to explain

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Cabell County recorded a heroin overdose fatality rate nearly 13 times higher than the national average in 2013, and those deaths keep mounting as experts near and far struggle to explain why.

Evidence of nine such deaths in 23 days underscored Huntington’s plight this past January and spurred another citywide effort to treat addiction, one reminiscent of what happened after four local teenagers were killed in what is believed to be a drug-related shooting 10 years ago this month.

The countywide overdose death number so far this year stood at 30 last week, just four off Cabell County’s record of 34 such deaths in a year, the toll in both 2013 and 2014.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2015 documented heroin’s toll nationwide showing the rate of deaths involving heroin nearly tripled from 2010 to 2013. The rate per 100,000 more than quadrupled statewide during that time period and increased more than eightfold in Cabell County, according to state officials.

CDC epidemiologist Dr. Leonard J. Paulozzi and Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys as well as local experts blame Huntington’s skyrocketing death toll upon the region’s underlying addiction to prescription painkillers, such as the opioid-based drugs oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Paulozzi cited studies from 2008 and 2014, explaining opioid drug abuse made West Virginia a fertile ground for heroin…

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