It’s only a matter of hours before the news spreads. Another heroin overdose death.
People with police scanners likely already know the facts: A young man found dead in the restroom of a fast-food restaurant with the needle still in his arm.
An overdose death more public—and thus more talked about—than the dozens of others in the last few months.
Seldom a day passes without an EMS call for an overdose here; sometimes several in a day when a “bad batch” of heroin hits local streets.
Walk downtown and there’s a good chance you’ll see a discarded syringe hastily ditched by an addict. Many on these streets are looking for their next fix – including women who sell their bodies just to support their habit.
At a house by the railroad tracks, an older man driving a red car pulls up and wants to see Ashley. He’s too late. She just walked down the block with another john. He quickly leaves, taking his money with him.
Baltimore residents are all too familiar with this scenario. But this isn’t Baltimore. It’s Martinsburg, West Virginia—a town its residents are now calling “Little Baltimore.”
Martinsburg has a comparable heroin overdose rate to Baltimore.
Martinsburg and Berkeley County seemingly have little in common with the Queen City 100 miles to its east. But West Virginia’s heroin epidemic has exploded here to nearly the same magnitude as Baltimore. And there’s no end in sight.
In October, federal officials released a report directly equating the epidemic here with the one in Maryland. Based on percentages of populations, Martinsburg’s overdose rate is comparable to Baltimore.
The report was also the first time officials—federal or otherwise—publicly labeled the Eastern Panhandle’s drug problem an epidemic. Martinsburg ranks second only behind Huntington inside the state for overdoses.
The problem is so bad Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) brought a Substance Abuse Summit here last week.
Berkeley County Council President Doug Copenhaver spoke. He shook his head and sighed as he began to describe how much Martinsburg has changed.
“We look at ourselves as being a nice, little rural area but to be tied with Baltimore City in heroin overdoses says something else.”
This crisis is personal for Copenhaver. He lost his own son five years ago to opioid prescription pills. Once a grieving father, he’s now on a mission to save lives.
It’s time for some truth, he said.
“It’s sad to say that we are virtually tied in terms of drug overdoses with Baltimore City. That’s just so unbelievably sad.”