Monday, March 13, 2017
Drugs are killing so many people in West Virginia that the state can’t keep up with the funerals
West Virginia, unlike most other states, has a program that provides burial assistance for poor families. The total assistance averages $1,250 per burial. For the past two years, the allotted annual budget of roughly two million dollars has been exhausted in March.
The state’s Department of Health and Human Resources spokesperson didn’t comment or speculate as to the cause of the deficit, but West Virginian funeral home directors have no quarrels with blaming the growing problem on drug overdoses. The same people would also tell you that, contrasting with other low-income deaths, nearly all of these drug overdose incidents rely upon the burial assistance program. “In 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia's drug overdose death rate stood at 41.5 cases per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in the country and nearly three times the national average. In 1999, the state's overdose fatality rate was below average.”
The cause of this exponential increase? Between 2007 and 2012, the same years that the drug overdose statistics began their uncontrollable climb, drug wholesalers trafficked 780 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia. That amount is enough to give every man, woman, and child in West Virginia 433 pain pills. The Charleston Gazette-Mail investigation that provided those statistics also claimed that those pills took 1,700 lives during that period of time.
So, it’s easy to see that there are plenty of bioethical concerns intertwined in this story. The most glaringly obvious ethical concern would be the shipment of 780 million doses of opiate pain-killers to a single state. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the statement of “those specific drugs killed X amount of people,” but I’m not ready to write it off as coincidence, either.
It’s a little scary to think that various companies involved in the process of producing and transporting these pharmaceuticals may have sniffed out an opportunity for profit and completely ignored the ethical ramifications of their actions. It also makes one wonder why these enormous shipments of potentially harmful drugs can be concentrated and transferred unnoticed (at least until years later and after the deaths of thousands).
Whether the drugs were shipped to a storage facility with no malicious intent or to street vendors to distribute and make an unethical profit, there’s a level of accountability that has yet to be attained and is necessary to avoid tragedies like this.
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