What a difference a couple of years makes.
That’s how long it has taken for word to travel (in a really big way) about Martinsburg and Berkeley County’s heroin problem.
National and international media coverage about the Eastern Panhandle’s heroin epidemic continues to grow.
A Danish journalist will be in town this week, and the Al Jazeera news organization is slated to return for additional local coverage after first visiting in early 2015.
At that time, Al Jazeera came to Martinsburg as part of a series that looked at heroin trafficking from southern Mexico and how small towns were being impacted by the drug.
Niklas Hessel is an assistant foreign editor with Weekendavisen (The Weekend Newspaper), a Danish weekly newspaper published on Fridays and headquartered in Copenhagen.
An Irish photojournalist has been spending time locally while traveling the region working on a documentary about the lives lost and families devastated by opioid addiction.
Overdose deaths are always personal.
Brooklyn-based Mary Sue Connolly has firsthand experience since her 21-year-old nephew died from an overdose last year. He was a junior political science major at West Virginia University when he died Nov. 24.
She’s been talking to local people helping fight the epidemic, but has also spent considerable time in Grant County interviewing Petersburg residents who’ve used or sold heroin and others who watched family members become addicts.
The New Yorker magazine’s “The Addicts Next Door” was published at the end of May. It featured in depth reporting that included accompanying county emergency service providers as they answered numerous overdose calls.
Media reports have also highlighted the fact that West Virginia has the nation’s highest rate of opioid overdose deaths with about 41.5 cases per 100,000 in 2015 based on federal data.
Analysis by the West Virginia Health Statistics Center showed at least 840 people in the state died of drug overdoses in 2016, The Associated Press reported.
“That’s four times the number that occurred in 2001, and a nearly 13 percent increase over the 725 who died of overdoses in 2015. About 86 percent of the deaths in 2016 involved at least one opioid.”
This state data also showed there were more than 100 overdose deaths last year in the Eastern Panhandle, and 79 were reported in Berkeley County.
Berkeley County ranked third among the state’s 55 counties for overdose deaths involving at least one opioid with 73 deaths, behind Cabell County, with 88, and Kanawha County, with 86, according to the Herald-Mail Newspaper.
It’s only natural reporters would want to investigate this situation, and at least one local official is helping make that possible.
While some residents may not welcome this much attention, Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority Director Brian Costello sees value in the media coverage.
He said it “shines a light on the problem, and acknowledging there’s a problem is an important part of addressing it. If we don’t talk about it, we can’t fix it.”
Plans have been made for visiting journalists to go out with his staffers.
“Obviously I hope there won’t be any overdoses for them to see but you never know in advance. Fortunately there have been fewer lately so we just hope that trend continues, but there have been many days with multiple overdose calls,” he said.