addiction crisis

Ashton Marra, WVPB

Trump administration officials have been visiting parts of the country affected by the opioid addiction crisis, including the Ohio Valley region. The administration called it a “listening tour,” and they got an earful in events marked by protests and controversies.

Some people working to combat the epidemic in the region say they’re concerned about the potential effects of the administration’s approach, including proposed health care changes and a possible return to harsher criminal prosecutions for drug charges.

Last October then-candidate Donald Trump laid out his plan to tackle the opioid epidemic. In a campaign event he focused on stopping the flow of drugs, issuing harsher trafficking penalties, and supporting addiction treatment.


Alexandra Kanik

The Ohio Valley’s addiction crisis has brought another health problem, as rising numbers of needle drug users are contracting a serious form of heart infection called endocarditis. The rate of endocarditis doubled in the region over a decade, and many patients require repeated, expensive treatment and surgery as they return to drug use and once again become infected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annual Medicaid spending on endocarditis is more than $700 million, a number likely to rise if treatment does not change to also address the growing health impact of substance abuse.

Doctors at the University of Kentucky are creating a team approach to address endocarditis and the addiction contributing to it. It’s a challenge that has forced them to change traditional practices, break down walls between different medical practices, and get to the heart of the problem.

John Ted Dagatano

She asked to not be identified. And it’s understandable given the stigma attached to addiction. For this story, we’ll call her “Mary.”

Mary lives in eastern Kentucky and has struggled with an addiction that began with painkillers and progressed to heroin.

“As soon as I opened my eyes, I had to get it,” Mary said. “And even when I did get it, then I had to think of the next way that I was going to get.”

Mary was using when she learned she was pregnant with her first child. She sought treatment but the disease had a tight grip on her.

The child was born dependent on opioids and went through the pains of withdrawal shortly after delivery.

“To see that little boy go through that stuff, you’d think that I would, like, change my life around immediately but I didn’t,” Mary said. “I didn’t want to believe it. I was in complete denial that because of my choices, it was my fault that he was going through that.”