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W.Va. drug abuse numbers paint alarming picture

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Over the past five years, nearly 2,900 West Virginians have died after overdosing on prescription painkillers or heroin, according to new data released by the state Health Statistics Center.

Last year, overdose deaths caused by prescription narcotics and heroin were the highest they’ve been since 2011. This year’s deaths are on pace to set a record.

“The tidal wave of substance abuse has crashed here in our mountains in a tragically profound way,” said Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, a retired pharmacist.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama plans to come to Charleston, where he’ll hold a forum about the prescription drug and heroin abuse problem that has devastated West Virginia and other states. The president will talk with educators, law enforcement officers, health care professionals and others fighting to curb the epidemic. The White House has yet to announce the time and location for the event.

West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, with nearly 34 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s more than twice the national average.

Heroin and prescription pain pills, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, caused nearly 90 percent of those drug overdose deaths since 2011…

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