By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
What exactly can be done about the drug problem in southern West Virginia? If I knew that answer, I’d run for public office or find a way to bottle and sell it.
The drug problem comes to mind every time I see a new grand jury indictment list from any of our local counties. They read like a drug store’s order form. Almost every other list of charges include names like oxycodone, methylphenidate, lorazepam, hydrocodone, alprazolam, and methamphetamine or meth. Of course, cocaine and marijuana make the list, too.
And from what I understand, that illicit cornucopia of drugs helps fuel a lot of the other charges that reach the grand jury. Burglary, grand larceny, sale of stolen property, forgery, credit card theft, credit card forgery, identity fraud and more are often linked to drugs. Addicts commit crimes to raise the money that feed their habits.
I’ve heard prosecuting attorneys say that they could handle their jobs by themselves and on a part-time basis if it wasn’t for all the crimes generated by drug abuse. Local police departments would need only one or two officers. Unfortunately, drugs fuel crimes and generate more work both for law enforcement and the media.
On Tuesday afternoon, photographer Jon Bolt and myself went to Welch to cover a session of the Governor’s Regional Substance Abuse Task Force. During these meetings, local human service agencies share ideas for preventing drug abuse and helping addicts escape their habits.
The ideas being considered — and some of them are being put to use already — include programs like the Mercer County Drug Court, which works to give addicts an alternative to jail while guiding them toward a drug-free life. Installing drug drop-off boxes in courthouses so people can get rid of old pain medication prescriptions is another idea.
During the meeting at the McDowell County Public Library in Welch, a letter from U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., was read to the participants. Rahall, a senior member of the Congressional Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus, encouraged local agencies to continue their work.
“Every day, you work with the devastating and far reaching toll that prescription drug abuse is taking on the most innocent among us, our children,” Rahall said.
Children arrive to school on Monday mornings hungry “because their parents are so strung out they don’t bother to feed their children the whole weekend,” he said in his letter.
All parts of the state are seeing the impact of drug abuse, so all of the counties are trying to find solutions. One point of the regional drug task forces is to share ideas. For instance, a program that has seen success in one part of West Virginia may be successful in another region, too. The ideas are also going into a statewide plan being developed to combat drug abuse.
One new piece of legislation that borrows from these ideas, Senate Bill 437, is addressing the problem of addicts going from clinic to clinic and physician to physician to seek pain medication. The bill tightens requirements for dispensing controlled substances in doctor offices, requires penalties for operating a chronic pain clinic without a license, and has new licensing regulations to protect legitimate pain clinics and make sure people suffering real chronic pain can get treatment.
In many cases, drug dealers travel to other states to visit “pill mills,” clinics and other entities, that readily fill large prescriptions. The pills are then transported back to West Virginia and Virginia and sold on the streets. Ideas for combating the problem include monitoring sales so illicit dealers cannot accumulate large amounts of pills.
The hope is that a number of approaches addressing prevention, intervention and long-term treatment will eventually bring the rampant drug abuse problem under control. I have been told that the public cannot expect a quick solution to the problem. It will take years of patient effort before there are any results that can be measured. Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy silver bullet that will end drug abuse. Ending drug abuse will take a combination of education, law enforcement, the courts and medical care. Parents must be willing to talk to their children about the dangers of drug abuse and work to avoid it themselves.
Drug abuse has been with humanity ever since the first wine and liquor were fermented and poured into bottles, but that doesn’t mean it’s a problem we have to accept. The abuse and the suffering it causes can be curbed, and, maybe someday eliminated.
Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org