Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

January 9, 2013

Continue the fight — Lawmakers must attack drug scourge

It goes without saying that addressing the region’s rampant prescription drug abuse problem through tougher legislation should be a considered a priority for lawmakers returning today to Charleston and Richmond.

The statistics alone are reason enough for alarm. In West Virginia, an estimated 40,000 people are addicted to some form of controlled substances and aren’t receiving treatment. And one fifth of all  pregnant women in the Mountain State have a drug issue that will impact their newborn child.

The news doesn’t get much better in Southwest Virginia where an estimated 270 Southwest Virginia residents died from drug overdoses in 2011. This is more than three times the overdose rate in the late 1990s, which marked the beginning of the prescription drug abuse epidemic in several Southwest Virginia counties like Tazewell.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, overdoses became the number one cause of death for Virginia residents aged 35 to 54 between 2004 and 2009. The health department also found that poisoning from drug overdoses was the leading cause of injury hospitalization for Virginia residents between ages 15 to 44 during the same time period.

West Virginia House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, is making a renewed plea for his fellow lawmakers to address the controlled substance problem.

But other topics seem to be on the mind of lawmakers, including West Virginia’s highly critical education audit and a proposal in Virginia that would raise the pay of teachers but also give school administrators more leeway in firing teachers with poor performance reviews. And that’s fine. We would expect lawmakers to address a wide array of issues during the legislative term.

However, Perdue correctly argues the new incoming Legislature can ill afford to put the drug problem on the back burner.

“We’ve got to look at programs we have in place and make sure the dollars we spend actually achieve the results we want,” Perdue told the Register-Herald in Beckley. “We’ve got to be able to do more in prevention. We’ve got to do more in treatment and we’ve got to do more in recovery. Does it necessarily mean we need more dollars? I don’t know. I know if we use what we’ve got more effectively, it will make a difference.”

We agree. And we would expect to hear a lot — and see action — from lawmakers in both West Virginia and Virginia in the coming days and weeks when it comes to fighting the prescription drug abuse epidemic. And the same goes for West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

A failure to continue the fight against this deadly scourge would be unacceptable.

 

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