W.Va.'s Rate of Death by Drug Overdose Highest in the Nation - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

W.Va.'s Rate of Death by Drug Overdose Highest in the Nation

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WHEELING, W.Va -

West Virginia has the nation's highest rate of death from drug overdoses, and most of those deaths involve prescription pills.

WTRF.com spoke to U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld to find out what is being done to curb this growing problem in the Ohio Valley.

There are many different ways authorities are working to raise awareness and lessen the problem of illegal prescription drug use. Ihlenfeld says they're doing everything from working with other states to educating our students about prescription drug abuse.

Ihlenfeld says there's been a recent shift in the Valley's drug of choice. While cocaine and crack cocaine used to be on the top of the list, he says authorities are now dealing with mostly heroine and prescription drugs.

"Prescription drugs have become easier to obtain for legitimate reasons," he says. "Unfortunately, sometimes those pills get diverted."

Ihlenfeld adds that when prescription pills are too expensive or not available, heroine has a similar affect.

Another common problem throughout the nation is called "doctor shopping." Drug traffickers travel from state to state to buy and trade pills and then bring them back to the Ohio Valley to sell.

"Drug dealers don't see those borders, they don't care about the borders," he says. "They just go where they can benefit the most. We are constantly working together to address problems that are coming here from other states."

Ihlenfeld says he recognizes that while sentences can be hefty, locking people up isn't going to eliminate the problem of addiction. His office has teamed up with other local law enforcement agencies to speak to middle and high school students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

"The reason I knew it was worth our time and effort to go out and talk to the students, is one day in December, we were going out to a local middle school and upon arrival we were told by the principal that they had a child overdose on pills that day as we were coming in to do our presentation," he says.

According to a study by the West Virginia Prescription Drug Abuse Quitline, lower education levels and increased poverty are associated with higher death rates related to prescription drugs.

If you are struggling with prescription drug use, WTRF.com is working to find treatment facilities available to you throughout the Ohio Valley.

In Ohio County, Northwood, Hillcrest, and Wheeling Treatment Center can help. In Belmont County, there's Riverview Center for Recovery, and in Hancock County, Healthways is there to help.

WTRF.com found that according to a study conducted by the West Virginia Prescription Drug Abuse Quitline, Marshall, Brooke and Wetzel counties are without treatment facilities. Out of 22 treatment facilities surveyed, 59% say they have a wait list for their services.