As West Virginia voters headed to the polls to cast their ballots in tonight’s highly-contested primary, students in the Mountain State wait to hear who won the second annual “Kids Kick Opioids” contest.
The competition was designed to raise awareness about prescription painkiller abuse and encourage elementary and middle school students to share their stories through poems, drawings, and letters.
West Virginia has the nation’s highest drug overdose rate. Nearly 900 people in the state lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2016, many of which were opioid related.
Among the powerful submissions now on display in the state's capitol is a detailed comic strip by Hailey Tanner, a middle school student from Tyler County, whose work describes how the deadly drug tore her family apart.
"I don’t know what my biological father looks like," Tanner writes alongside an illustration of her father. "I now have an adoptive father, but my life will never be whole because of the atrocious things drugs do to any person."
She continues, "My mom has told me stories of him. How he abused drugs like opioids and how it took a toll on his health. I know my mom doesn’t want me to hate him, but I almost have to."
Tanner makes a plea to drug users to "PLEASE stop being selfish. If not for your own health, stop doing drugs for your family’s health. For your daughter's health."
Chloe Davis, an eighth grader from Wildwood Middle School in Shenandoah Junction, let her drawing do the talking.
Davis submitted a picture of a lightly-colored brown table with a frame that had an “x” across a family members face. The scene includes a bottle of red and green pills spilling out and a lifeless hand leaning over the table, dropping pills.
Last years winner, Jacey Rose Chalmers, penned a letter about the loss of her father, alongside a photo with him and her younger brother.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whose office sponsors the contest, said this year’s entries showcase the "tremendous talent" of elementary and middle school participants, while "underscoring the seriousness of the drug epidemic."
"By addressing the negative consequences of drug use now, we hope to deter the continued growth of this crisis and provide a better future for these children," Morrisey, one of three major Republican candidates hoping to challenge incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin for his seat in the U.S. Senate, said in a statement.
Morrisey's office received 2,087 entries from 2,300 students at 70 middle and elementary schools across West Virginia, according to The Register-Herald.
The office announced regional winners of the competition last week. Judges recognized 35 winning entries from 41 students overall.
The winner of the “Kids Kick Opioids” contest will be tentatively announced this week and will appear as the Attorney General’s next statewide newspaper PSA.