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Obama Shares Plans To Tackle Heroin Epidemic In West Virginia

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Across the country, heroin addiction is increasing at a frightening rate. Overdose deaths have nearly tripled since 2012. Today, President Obama was in West Virginia to discuss heroin addiction and addiction to legal prescription drugs. Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Charleston, W.V., was selected for this event because its rate of fatal heroin overdoses doubles the worsening national average.

MATTHEW SUTTON: That's just a shocking number to see.

GONYEA: That's Matthew Sutton of the neighborhood center where Obama was today.

SUTTON: If you live here and you read the news and you talk to people in the community, it's not all that surprising. I don't think you could talk to somebody in Charleston who doesn't know somebody who's been impacted by the drug problem over the last several years.

GONYEA: The president opened by talking about prescription drug abuse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do from motor vehicle crashes.

GONYEA: And he said legal prescription drugs - opiates designed to kill pain - are the most likely path people take to heroin. He said governments at all levels need to better coordinate with each other and with private and faith-based groups for earlier treatment, more hospital beds, counseling and getting past the stigma.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: This is an illness, and we got to treat it as such.

GONYEA: Not far from this event just hours earlier, there was also evidence of the strong animosity the president engenders here at a small protest. One sign read, I voted for the American - another, Obama's change destroyed our hope. That's a reference to the anger here over his environmental policies which many West Virginians believe hurt the coal industry. They even blame Obama for making the state's drug problem worse. Here's 27-year-old coal miner Jordan Bridges.

JORDAN BRIDGES: You don't cut the legs out from underneath the industry. You can't lay people off and put them to the brink of not being able to provide for their family.

GONYEA: So for Obama in West Virginia, cheers at a community center and jeers from coal industry supporters. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.