Data Viz: When Did West Virginia's Heroin Problem Begin? Which Counties Are Hurting the Most?

May 22, 2015

Credit Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting / via Tableau

As the stories airing this week on West Virginia Morning illustrate, West Virginia is in the midst of a heroin epidemic. According to  the state Department of Health and Human Resources'  Drug Overdose Database, heroin has claimed the lives of more than 600 West Virginians since 2001. 

But what else can we glean from this information? When did it all begin? And which counties are seeing the highest rate of deaths related to heroin overdoses?  

The interactive map below paints a dark picture of the state's problem with the drug in recent years and also shows other key facts as medical professionals, emergency officials, law enforcement officers and lawmakers all attempt to find solutions. 

When did this problem begin?

From 2001 to 2006, DHHR data shows that West Virginia reported less than 15 heroin overdose deaths per year. But, from 2006 to 2007 the number of deaths doubled--from 11 to 22--in just one year. The following year in 2008, that number jumped again to 38 but leveled off until about 2011, when 41 were reported. Since then, the number of heroin overdose deaths has skyrocketed, with 67 reported in 2012. As of April 2015, 157 heroin overdose deaths have been reported for 2013 and 151 have been coded as such for 2014.

Notes from the DHHR state that the numbers for 2012 are preliminary (but, the agency says that year's totals are substantially complete). However, numbers for 2013 and 2014 are likely to increase once causes of death are known and properly coded.

Which counties have the biggest problems?

Just last week, The Herald-Dispatch reported that Cabell County's 30 heroin overdose deaths in 2015 is nearly 13 times the national average, which also puts them on track to break a record for overdose deaths in a single year. Clearly the problem continues to worsen in some counties, but which ones have been the most affected?

According to data from the DHHR, these counties have the highest heroin overdose death rates* from 2001 to 2014:

     1.  Cabell County 109 deaths (113.2 per 100,000)

     2. Berkeley County: 109 deaths (104.6 per 100,000)

     3. Brooke County: 23 deaths (95.6 per 100,000)

     4. Morgan County: 13 (74.1 per 100,000)

     5. Jefferson County 28 (52.3 per 100,000)

(*Heroin overdose death rate calculations were based on the total fatalities for the years and data provided, as well as the 2010 U.S. Census)

Hover over/click on a county on the map below to see yearly numbers, heroin overdose death totals and a rate per 100,000 from 2001 to 2014 (as of now). Click outside of West Virginia on the map to reset the view.