Heroin has flourished in West Virginia over the past decade, especially since officials cracked down on prescription drugs. In 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia’s drug overdose death rate stood at 41.5 cases per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in the country and nearly three times the national average.
This epidemic is now causing a strain on funeral homes as well as a state funded program that provides burial assistance for impoverished families. West Virginia’s “Indigent Burial Program” has existed for decades, but with the increase of heroin-related deaths, their resources are being depleted at a faster rate. And as overdoses rise many funeral homes are finding that they cannot keep up with the demand for services.
The Indigent Burial Program is a unique program because a majority of states don’t provide such services at the state level, and most of the ones that do, limit them to recipients of Medicaid, SNAP or other social programs for the poor. Frederick Kitchen, president of the West Virginia Funeral Directors Association, said the state Department of Human Services earmarks almost $2 million a year to help cover the burial costs for destitute individuals. The state offers funeral homes $1,250 per person to cover expenses in cases where the deceased has no funds nor anyone willing or able to pay the funeral costs. (RELATED: Get all the news Google is trying to hide from you at Censored.news)
The program has paid for so many burials for citizens who have died from drug overdoses that in 2014 they were out of money by June. In 2015, the program’s budget was completely drained by March. For this current fiscal year set to end in June, 1,508 burials have already been submitted for payment through the Indigent Burial Program, according to Allison Adler, a spokesperson for state DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch.
How did things spiral this far out of control? West Virginia was ranked the third poorest State in 2016 . The median household income is $42,019; they have the highest unemployment rate of 6.7%, and the 7th highest poverty rate of 17.9%. West Virginia’s population is one of the largest recipients of government assistance programs such as SNAP and Medicaid. Economic despair, widespread unemployment, inadequate mental health facilities and a sense of isolation in communities have all contributed to the widespread abuse of heroin. In Huntington, WV for example, about one in four of its 49,000 residents is hooked on heroin or some other opioid. On August 15, 2016, this catastrophe came to a head when 28 overdoses were reported in a five-hour span.
Many of these overdoses occur among the younger population, most of whom don’t have life insurance, funds to cover a funeral, or even jobs. Parents or grandparents often spend a fortune on a child or grandchild who is fighting an addiction, so when overdoses occur many families, unfortunately, do not have the finances to prepare a proper funeral.