CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, according to a report released Monday.
The number of overdose deaths in West Virginia -- mostly from prescription pills -- also increased six fold from 1999 to 2010, according to the report by the Trust for America's Health. West Virginians purchased more opiod pain relievers -- drugs such as OxyContin and hydrocodone --- on a per-capita basis than residents of all but five states.
In West Virginia, the number of drug overdose deaths -- nearly 29 for every 100,000 residents -- even exceeded the number of people killed by auto accidents, the study found.
"The [drug overdose death] rate is high, and the rate of increase is dramatically higher than most states," said Rich Hamburg, deputy director at Trust for America's Health, a Washington, D.C.-based health policy group. "People in rural communities are about twice as likely to die from a prescription drug overdose as those living in urban areas."
West Virginia's drug overdose death rate was eight times higher than North Dakota's, which had the lowest rate. New Mexico had the second-highest drug overdose fatality rate, followed by Kentucky.
"It is tragic to see that West Virginia leads the nation in prescription drug overdose deaths, and that the number of deaths has grown so greatly in recent decades," said Beth Ryan, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. "Drug addiction is a scourge on our state, which is why we have committed a significant amount of resources
within the [office] to help fight this epidemic from both a supply side and demand side. We have been working very closely with law enforcement and other agencies to help fight this issue from all angles."
Despite West Virginia's harrowing number of drug overdose deaths, the state seems to be moving in the right direction to combat the problem, Hamburg said.
The report -- called "Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic" -- spotlighted 10 steps states can take to lessen drug overdose fatalities.
West Virginia fell short in two areas: The state doesn't allow police and firefighters to administer naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of pain-pill overdoses and saves lives during emergencies.