As of early December, the number of statewide overdose deaths in West Virginia is down from 2016.
But in the Northern Panhandle, overdose rates have nearly doubled in three separate counties: Ohio, Hancock and Wetzel.
That’s a problem no one wants to see.
“Until you completely eliminate the hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine, meth and fetanyl, you’re always going to have that chance,” said Brooke County Sheriff Larry Palmer.
In 2017, Ohio County experienced 21 overdose deaths compared to 12 in the previous year.
However, fatal overdoses nearly doubled in both Wetzel and Hancock Counties.
“It’s going to take awhile, but I see positives. Now, if you get a bad batch, there goes your numbers. It can happen to anybody. But I feel we’re taking the right steps,” said Ohio County Health Director Dr. William Mercer.
The right steps include enacting stricter regulations of opioid prescribing, community efforts to prevent drug abuse and additional treatment options.
Officials in Brooke, Tyler and Marshall Counties believe these steps have helped stabilize, if not decrease their numbers.
“That has to do with a lot of things. It’s education, its family support, it’s enforcement. But you can’t let up. You have to keep enforcing, keep educating, and keep rehabilitating,” Palmer said.
State health officials confirm the total numbers for 2017 overdose deaths won’t be available until the second quarter of this year because of the time it takes for toxicology reports to be completed.