In 2015 New Jersey saw 1,587 deaths from drug overdose, a 21 percent increase from the year prior. That same year, a little further west, Ohio saw 3,050 of its residents succumb to drug overdose, a record high for the state. Finally, on the West Coast, 4, 659 Californians died from drug overdose. This snapshot illustrates a national escalation in illicit drug use and trafficking, and the numbers have only gotten worse. With the rampant and almost unanimous uptick in opioids and other drugs across the country, it’s worth asking whether it’s time for states to take on a more individualized approach to enforcement, overdose prevention and treatment.
West Virginia recently announced the formation of a new Office of Drug Control Policy. Headed by retired veteran police officer Jim Johnson, the new division will be part of West Virginia’s comprehensive approach to combating substance misuse and reducing the number of deaths. The move takes pressure off local police precincts and creates a liaison for treatment facilities and overdose prevention advocates looking to make an impact in their community. West Virginia lost 725 residents to drug overdose in 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In an increasingly volatile national political environment, and a top-level prevention strategy that can charitably be described as “unclear”, perhaps it’s time for states to start taking matters more into their own hands. Whether it’s the creation of a state-level agency, more state taxes going toward prevention or treatment or anything else, governors and state legislators would do well to remember that the people dying each year are not just Americans; they’re also Floridians, New Jerseyans, New Yorkers, Californians and residents of every other state. Successful overdose prevention may very well require a more localized approach. It will be interesting to see if more state’s follow the beleaguered West Virginia’s lead.