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West Virginia Forensic Labs ‘Inundated’ by Opioid Crisis

Despite a decline in overdose deaths, the opioid epidemic has imposed “severe” costs for West Virginia’s justice system, according to a forensics expert in the state.

“It’s bleeding into all other aspects of criminal justice,” said West Virginia University economics professor Paul Speaker. “[Labs] are inundated because of things related to the opioid crisis”

Preliminary data released by the West Virginia Department of Health Resources Bureau (DHRB) shows a slight decline in overdose fatalities during 2018 from the previous year, down from 1,017 to 899, the State Journal reports.

According to DHRB Assistant Communications Director Jessica Holstein, the expansion of Naloxone access and education accounts for some of the decline.

But the costs are still enormous, says the paper.


Paul Speaker. Courtesy West Virginia University

Some 22 “Quick Response Teams” have been activated in some of the highest-need areas of the state.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey transferred $1 million to the State Police Forensic Laboratory in 2017. At the same time, the state is securing funds from settlements with drug wholesalers, which were accused of flooding the state with millions of prescription pain pills.

DHRB also has a stake in prevention efforts and making their expansion a key focus in 2020.

The paper quotes Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett, who said community collaboration and swift action local leaders is key to getting out ahead of the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“If you can’t as an elected official provide hope to your community, you don’t need to be an elected official,” Puckett said at a panel sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission and National Association of Counties.

TCR intern Nia Morton contributed to this summary.