How 2020 impacted overdoses in local counties

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 12:14 AM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - 2020 proved to exacerbate drug issues across the US.

WTAP explored how Wood, Washington, and Pleasants County were impacted.

A disclaimer that Washington County data from six months back or earlier is incomplete. Additionally, the county’s fatal overdose data covers accidental overdoses from drugs and other biological substances and the county’s fentanyl statistics also cover fentanyl analogs.

Drugs have been an issue in our viewing area for years. While the pandemic raged on, so did our drug crisis.

Pleasants County Sheriff Charles Mankins said meth is his department’s biggest concern.

“We make arrests weekly for it is a serious problem here.”

While Pleasants and Wood County’s fatal overdoses dropped from 2019 to 2020, the story is different in Washington County.

The number doubled.

Washington County Chief Deputy Mark Warden said, “The men and women who go out and deal with this on a daily basis - I’ve watched them plead with them ‘dude, you got to get help.’”

While Wood County’s fatal overdoses dropped from 38 to 33 and Pleasants County’s from two to one, this doesn’t account for all overdoses. In fact, Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens reports more 911 overdose calls in 2020 than 2019.

In 2020 their were 417 calls and in 2019 there were 363. It’s important to take into account that these numbers do not reflect those given Narcan by family nor those taken to the hospital in private vehicles. It also only accounts for overdoses, which is only part of the big picture with drugs.

May of last year was the worst.

Stephens remembered, “It was to the point where there was so many overdoses going on that other medical emergencies were being put on the back-burner. If someone was having a heart attack, all the ambulances might be tied up in overdose calls.”

Pleasants County’s 911 overdose calls remained at two from 2019 to 2020.

Still, there’s one thing that ties the three counties’ overdose fatalities together.

“They’re always always tied with fentanyl,” Stephens said.

In Washington County, while fatal overdose numbers have bounced back and forth since 2013, the percentage tied to fentanyl has shown a clear trend.

It caused 35% of fatal overdoses in 2016 and 88% in 2020.

Warden said it could be worse.

“I truly believe if it wasn’t for Narcan, those numbers would be astronomically high.”

Fentanyl is a substance Stephens has seen more of within the last year especially. In 2020, it was involved in 79% of Wood County’s fatal overdoses.

“One of our deputies ended up making an arrest where there was two ounces of fentanyl recovered which - that used to be unheard of. But that’s - we’re seeing a lot more of it now,” he said.

Still, drug problems have a bigger impact than numbers can capture.

Warden said, “You sit there and you talk to the family members and my gosh it just breaks your heart.”

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