Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced Tuesday that starting in January, doctors who prescribe pain pills will be required to follow federal prescribing guidelines.
The move was made in an attempt to lower state overuse and abuse rates. According to Rahul Gupta, the West Virginia state health officer and the commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health, West Virginia has the highest rate of prescription opioids per capita in the nation.
"The majority of the people who end up abusing these medications really start by getting these medications not from drug dealers but from friends, family and caregivers," he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a set of guidelines in March that encourages doctors to not consider opioid medication as a first-choice pain medication, and to talk with patients about the risks of using opioids as a response to chronic pain.
Half a million people died nationwide from opioid overdoses between 2010 and 2014. West Virginia received national attention this fall when 26 people died from heroin overdoses in a four-hour period.
The Department of Health and Human Resources will begin educating providers about the guidelines later this month.