West Virginia just had its biggest annual drop ever in the number of prescription painkillers and other powerful drugs dispensed — but the number of fatal drug overdoses in the state continued to rise.
That's because an increase in the use of illegal opioids — including heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil — has more than made up for the decrease in prescription opioid-based painkiller use in West Viriginia.
And the state remains the leader in overdose deaths per capita in the United States, which is dealing with an epidemic of abuse of prescription painkillers and illegal opioids.
"The 884 drug overdose deaths reported in 2016 was a record high for the state, but 2017 numbers are on pace to surpass that total," said the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy's annual report.
In 2017, the total number of doses of prescribed controlled substances — which includes opioid-based painkillers such as oxycodone — dispensed in West Virginia fell by a whopping 31.3 million compared with 2016.
But even after that 12 percent decrease in doses, there were still almost 236 million doses of controlled substances dispensed in West Virginia, according to the pharmacy board's report.
The drop first was reported by the Charleston Gazette-Mail newspaper.