By The Associated Press
JASPER, Ala. (AP) — Opiods, meth and other drugs are ravaging Walker County in northern Alabama, authorities say.
At least 254 people died from drug overdoses in Walker County between 2008 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This equates to about 38 deaths per 100,000 residents each year — the highest rate of any Alabama county, for which CDC data is publicly available.
For years, drugs have plagued the county, where the economy was hard-hit when coal-mining jobs disappeared.
In the small Walker County town of Sumiton, “I don’t know that you can find a family that’s not affected,” Sumiton Mayor Petey Ellis said.
“If it’s not your son or daughter, it’s your nephew or niece or your grandchild,” he said.
Walker County residents have witnessed the overdoses, homicides, thefts, homelessness and despair wrought by a variety of drugs.
“This place has went to hell,” said Jeremy Robinson, a native of the nearby town of Cordova.
Walker County’s overdose rate is more than double the statewide rate of about 15 deaths per 100,000 people.
Walker County was also home to Alabama’s highest opioid prescription rate. With just over 63,000 people, Walker County pharmacies received nearly 9 million prescription pain pills per year between 2006 and 2012, according to federal data.
Residents and officials say the problem locally isn’t just opioids.
During the first six months of 2019, authorities have seized about 3.5 pounds of meth, said Sheriff Nick Smith. Other drugs, like heroin and cocaine, have accounted for just a fraction of a pound.
Amber Robinson, a Sumiton native, said she’s been in recovery for four years after a lengthy battle with opioid and meth addiction.
“If you want to help an addict, get them out of Walker County,” she said.