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Ground Zero for the Opioid Epidemic, How Law Enforcement is Finding New Ways to Tackle Addiction

Like a slow-motion tsunami, the opioid epidemic continues to claim the lives of our friends and neighbors. Four of the top five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths are here, in Appalachia.

The drug epidemic is changing, but it’s not going away. People are still fighting for their loved ones and communities. This episode of Inside Appalachia looks at traditional and innovative ways law enforcement is tackling the challenge. And we’ll hear from people who end up behind bars anyway, as they struggle with substance use disorder.

This episode features a series of reports from The Uncertain Hour, a podcast from the American Public Media show Marketplace. 

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Credit Julia Rendleman/ Marketplace
Glemia Walker, 51, and her daughter Angela Cantrell, 29, play with Angela's 3-month-old daughter, Annsley, at home in Wise, Virginia, in December. Cantrell said that lately it seems opioids are losing their grip on rural, southwest Virginia and are being replaced with meth. “The opioids are going away, but meth is taking over,” Walker adds.

Last year we shared an episode of The Uncertain Hour on Inside Appalachia that featured their reporting about some of the root causes of the opioid epidemic. They looked at a highly aggressive marketing campaign by drug companies, like Purdue Pharma, which pushed doctors to prescribe highly addictive pain pills to patients. This week, we’ll travel back to Wise County Virginia with The Uncertain Hour’s producer Caitlin Esch. 

In the past decade or so, investigations uncovered doctors who over-prescribed pain pills. Doctors are being arrested and practices are being shut down. But the high demand for opioids is still here, so that means other drugs, like methamphetamine and heroin, are replacing pills and becoming the drugs of choice for many in central Appalachia.

Also in this show, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Trey Kay, host of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s podcast Us & Them, recently spoke with Caitlin Esch about this series, and how law enforcement’s approach to fighting this challenge is evolving.

You can find the entire series about the opioid epidemic from The Uncertain Hour here.

Music in this episode was provided by  Dinosaur Burps, Michael Howard, and Ben Townsend.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer.  Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Glynis Board edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia.

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Jessica can be heard on Inside Appalachia and West Virginia Morning the station’s daily radio news program. You can reach her at jlilly@wvpublic.org
Roxy Todd is a reporter and producer for Inside Appalachia and has been a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2014. She’s won several awards, including a regional AP Award for best feature radio story, and also two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Eric is a native of Kanawha County who graduated from Marshall University with a degree in journalism. He has written for newspapers and magazines throughout his career. He is an author, writing both nonfiction and fiction, including a series of thriller novels set in locations around the world. You can reach Eric at edouglas@wvpublic.org