What’s the plan for the overdose capital?

Ignoring it isn’t working

Illustration by Jamie Miller

What’s the plan for the overdose capital – ignoring it isn’t working

You’ve probably heard of Huntington as the nation’s overdose capital.

Kanawha and Charleston took over Cabell and Huntington’s fatal overdose numbers in 2018. That was the same year our then-Mayor bullied our Health Department into shutting down its harm reduction program.

We’ve kept the ‘overdose capital’ title every year since 2018, with Charleston and Kanawha leading the state in lost loved ones in the state whose overdose rate leads the country.

It’s been four years – What’s the plan?

In 2019, the overdose crisis cost Kanawha County 1.7 billion dollars, according to a report by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. The Regatta brought in 31.5 million dollars. That means we’d have to have one Regatta every single week for a whole year just to make up 2019’s economic losses.

Prior to 2018, our county’s average number of HIV cases related to the re-use of syringes was 2 cases a year. Since 2019, we’ve had 113 of these HIV cases.

August 2022 represents one year since the CDC published a report just for Charleston and Kanawha, imploring the city and county to launch accessible harm reduction programs. We’ve launched none.

In April 2022, Buzzfeed wrote a feature on Charleston–looking at the ways we criminalize poverty and healthcare. Buzzfeed highlighted our city as the “capital of pain”.

The next month, in May 2022, the Charleston police department wrote 164 trespassing tickets. The previous May, CPD wrote 13 such tickets. That’s a spike of over 1000%.

National data shows that overdoses, HIV, and the criminalization of poverty all affect the Black community disproportionately.

A t any moment, Charleston City Council could call on experts and commit to evidence-based practices to form a robust plan for overdose zero. We could work with our local health institutions to provide a plan to address these issues instead of asking them to absorb the financial burden. City Council could finally hark the call of local racial justice groups by publishing demographic data for arrests. We could pass policies with the goal of diminishing the homeless population and helping these populations off the street. We have the ability and the resources to make all this a reality but we just need the will.

Joe Solomon is a social worker and student in Johns Hopkins Doctor of Public Health program. Joe is a Democrat running for Charleston City Council At-Large.

Dr. Frank Annie is a Research Scientist at CAMC. Dr. Annie is a Republican running for Ward 13.

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