At Northwood Health Systems, their case load used to be split 50-50 between mental health patients and drug abuse patients.
In the past two years, that has all changed.
“It’s now 90%, 95% drug problems–and it’s all heroin problems,” said Dr. Steven Corder, Northwood’s medical director.
West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation for a complex combination of reasons.
“Blue collar workers with injuries are given narcotic prescriptions, and in the natural progression of addiction, that leads to heroin use,” said Jeremy Sagun, operations manager of Northwood’s Substance Abuse Services.
“Adolescents and teens who use marijuana have permanent brain changes that occur and my theory is that some of those changes make them more likely to want to try other drugs and more likely to become addicted to them” said Dr. Corder.
They say addicts lose everything important to them–family, friends, jobs, activities and possessions.
“They have no other life,” said Dr. Corder. “There’s nothing. Their entire life revolves around obtaining and using drugs.”
“Everything revolves around that,” agreed Sagun. “Night and day, they’re chasing the drug, and seeking to satisfy the addiction.”
They said they’d like to see more treatment beds and more public awareness of heroin.
They said addiction can happen the first time a person uses the drug.
“Your brain changes to react to the chemical,” noted Sagun. “You won’t be the same after that point. You’ll just continue to seek out that feeling, again and again.”
Dr. Corder referred to one woman who described it as a relationship.
“This person was her life, her ruler,” he noted. “It determined when she ate, when she slept, what she did. And she was talking about heroin. If they were to see what I saw, they would never start.”
They say at Northwood they treat about 100 addiction patients a week.