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Appalachian Substance Abuse Coalition Highlights Need for Treatment in Southwest Virginia


At a meeting of the newly formed Appalachian Substance Abuse Coalition, speakers and delegates discussed the rising rate of prescription drug abuse in Southwest Virginia, reported the Bristol Herald Courier on September 16.

The region is particularly vulnerable to abuse of highly addictive painkillers because coalminors, farmers, and other laborers are prone to work-related injuries requiring pain medication, according to Dr. Aft Van Zee, who spoke at the meeting.

“There is a much higher prescription drug abuse rate in central Appalachia than other parts of the country,” Van Zee said. The area's prescription drug abuse-related death rate is rising, despite the decreasing use of oxycodone. Each year in Virginia, oxycodone causes 10.7 percent of accidental drug deaths, while methadone causes 44.6 percent.

“Drug abuse is destroying the fabric of many families in Southwest Virginia,” said Delegate Bud Phillips of Sandy Ridge. “I'm just seeing more and more of it. It's an epidemic.”

“It's not a single issue,” said Dr. John Dreyzehner, coalition member and head of Cumberland Plateau Health District, when asked what caused the local drug crisis. “There is a market for drug abuse. The market will respond.”

The coalition recommended a combination of education, prevention, enforcement and treatment to alleviate Southwest Virginia's substance abuse problems.

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