FILE - prescription medication, drugs, opioid crisis, oxycodone

(The Center Square) – Fatal drug overdoses in West Virginia hit a record high in 2020, coinciding with a national trend during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the current tally, 1,275 West Virginians lost their lives from overdoses, which is 45% higher than the 878 people who died in 2019. The number may be higher than the current tally as the cause of some deaths are still yet to be calculated.

“As Governor Jim Justice has emphasized, while West Virginia is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also continuing to fight the drug overdose epidemic,” Dr. Ayne Amjad, the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Public Health, said in a statement.

Amjad said the overdose epidemic “is a disease, not a choice.”

Dr. Matthew Christiansen, the director of DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy said in a statement that the state is concerned about the spike.

“We are concerned about what we are seeing in our communities and we also want to emphasize there are many resources to assist people who are struggling,” Christiansen said. “It is important to remember as we see these numbers and statistics that these are people who need our attention, our care, and our help.”

The numbers include all deaths in which drugs were a contributing factor, but not deaths in which drugs were present, but not a contributing factor.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.