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BREAKING News From West Virginia! The National Guard Just Called In!

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Many people expect to see the Army National Guard during natural and man-made disasters. However, Huntington, West Virginia has a bit of a different twist in response to the opioid crisis that is crippling the area. Yet there will be no Humvees blocking roads or soldiers on the street corners with long guns.

No martial law or mandatory curfew, yet the guard could be deployed in this state for years as long as local law enforcement believes help is necessary and beneficial. This recent escalated effort comes just after Congress voted to allocate some $6 billion towards fighting the opioid crisis in its most recent spending bill.

The governor of West Virginia describes the crisis as a “disaster of epic proportion.” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice states – “We have to stop this terrible drug epidemic. We have to. If we don’t, it will cannibalize us.”

Huntington is currently known as the overdose capital of America as the city currently doubles the national average of overdoses.  Many blame the decline of the coal industry and the lack of gainful employment opportunities.  The drugs are readily available and idle people are willing to do much to numb the pain of everyday life and hopelessness.

Law enforcement in the area is already stretched thin and it is causing a significant and complex problem that requires unique and innovative solutions to the multifaceted issue.

The opioid crisis claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016.  That is more lives than were claimed in the entire Vietnam war, as well as the AIDS/HIV epidemic during peak years. $8.8 billion. That is what a new study estimates the opioid epidemic is costing the West Virginia economy every year.

That is 12 percent of the state’s GDP, and more than any other state. The study takes into account what states are spending on health care and substance abuse treatment, criminal justice costs and lost worker productivity, as well as the societal burden of fatal overdoses.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, West Virginia’s public health commissioner states of the economic impact of the opioid crisis – “We’re losing $8.8 billion per year, at least one-eighth of the economy. It seems we’ve been grossly underestimating the economic impact.” 

According to the study, West Virginia’s economic burden from the opioid crisis comes out to $4,793 per resident. Maryland had the next-highest burden, at $3,366 per person. Nebraska had the lowest, at $465 per resident.

The primary role of the guards is to provide technical and analytic support, with helicopters helping out during drug busts, and serving warrants. Guardsman are manning hotlines and working on computers inside Huntington Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Bureau by helping to track down dealers and drug networks.  All of this in an effort to allow the local police to be boots on the ground and focus on what is happening in the streets of Huntington.

Hank Dial, chief of Huntington Police Dept states of this unique and drastic solution to the massive problem crippling the area – “We work on this all day every day. We have put all of our resources to it and we recognize that we will need additional resources and that’s why partnering agencies are so important to us.”

Just last week a guard answered a call that led to the bust of a dealer along with the recovery of 430 grams of fentanyl, a drug that is said to be far more powerful and more highly addictive than heroin.  430 grams has a street value of roughly $86,000.

The WV Gazette reports on another recent study conducted by West Virginia University where the economic impact to the state’s economy was measured at nearly $1 billion. The study estimates some $322 million in lost productivity due to overdose fatalities, along with another $316 million in lost productivity because of the significant number of addicts who are not working to peak level. There is also more than $320 million tied up dealing with the opioid epidemic.

In 2012, then-state Attorney General Darrell McGraw filed lawsuits against more than a dozen drug wholesalers, accusing the companies of fueling West Virginia’s drug problem by shipping an excessive number of pain pills to the state. The lawsuit alleged that the drug problem cost the state $430 million a year, and projected that those costs would rise to $695 million by 2017.

The Washington Post reports –

“Over the past decade, nearly 21 million prescription painkillers have been shipped to a tiny town in West Virginia, a state where more people have overdosed on opioids and died than in any other in the nation.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been investigating the opioid epidemic, revealed that 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills have been delivered to Williamson, W.Va., a town with a community college, a rail yard — and fewer than 3,200 residents, according to the most recent Census figures. 

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