CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Since COVID-19 began, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has been concerned about overdoses — particularly the rise in fatal ones.

Although overdose data for 2020 is still not available, state health officials say the pandemic has added emotional and mental stress to the lethal mix.

They’ve now launched a website and campaign called Back to Life West Virginia, in an effort to remove the stigma from opioid addiction recovery, and as a resource for those who need help.

Christina Mullins, commissioner for West Virginia’s Behavioral Health Department estimates 10 % of the state’s population is in opioid recovery.

In 2018, the DHHR counted 661 opioid-related deaths out of a total of 852 overdose deaths in West Virginia.

Bailey Hendricks is a former opioid-addict who has been off of street drugs and opioids for five years now.

These days, she’s helping others struggling with addiction as a recovery coach.

She says they all start out by experimenting.

“And it changes our brains — like our brain chemistry gets changed physiologically — it’s a proven scientific fact and it becomes not a choice very quickly after that,” she said.

Bailey is featured on the new website telling her story of overcoming opioid addiction.

She says the stigma surrounding opioid addiction can prevent some from seeking help.

“People always say ‘oh those junkies, those addicts, we need to get rid of them or they need to do this and they need to do that or they need to get help,’ well, when they do try to get help and when they do try to change and turn productive citizens they need to get that stigma to be gone,” she said.

Mullins agrees.

“The stigma, it can be just as dangerous as the addiction because if it prevents a person from entering treatment or asking for help, that can be a really big setback and it can put the person at a higher risk of overdose death,” she said.

You can call 844-help-4WV to find your nearest recovery clinic.