Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 28, 2012

Lawmakers plan coordinated effort to combat state’s drug problem

By MANNIX PORTERFIELD
for the Daily Telegraph

CHARLESTON — Senate President Jeffrey Kessler is confident West Virginia can get a handle on the drug menace that is crowding jails, hurting the workplace and turning youngsters into hopeless dropouts.

Just don’t expect a quick and simple solution, or one that is cheap, for that matter, Kessler cautioned Friday.

“I wish there were just one silver bullet,” Kessler, D-Marshall, said, after he introduced Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s massive anti-drug package. “I think it’s going to be a coordinated effort. We need to look at in a macro view, rather than just a vacuum.”

Tomblin’s 76-page bill calls for enhanced reporting of prescription drugs so that authorities can learn just who is getting narcotic pain killers and where they are going.

Kessler expects action next week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Absolutely, we can,” he said, when asked if the Legislature, working in tandem with Tomblin, can reverse the ugly trend of drug misuse and the societal problems it has spawned.

Kessler said the governor’s bill is “well-placed and thought out,” but more money must be plowed into treating those hooked on drugs.

“Some folks are actually so deeply addicted at the time (of arrest) they need to go to a treatment center to get detoxed,” he said. “I believe there’s a dearth of those kinds of facilities in the state. There’s no money. I’d like to see more money placed toward treatment and even in a community setting.”

Kessler said about 80 percent of people behind bars in West Virginia are hooked on some form of drugs.

“There’s no question in my mind that’s exactly what drug addiction leads to,” the Senate president said. “You start stealing. You start going down the path. You cross the line with the law and you end up in jail.”

While he saluted Tomblin not only for the huge drug bill but also the regional task forces dealing with drugs, Kessler suggested the path to recovery for the Legislature is long and multi-forked.

“This is not going to be the end-all,” he said of the bill. “It’s just the first step.”

Two other major anti-drug proposals have been offered in recent days. Senate Majority Whip Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, whose letter last April to Tomblin resulted in the regional task forces, offered one to limit prescriptions.

Under the Browning proposal, no one could get more than two prescriptions for controlled drugs within a 72-hour span.

The idea is to reverse the trend of “doctor shopping” where abusers and traffickers alike are getting multiple prescriptions.

Another measure, crafted by Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, would enhance the method for reporting the sale of such medications so that law enforcement has access to the sales within 24 hours.

Kessler said the spiraling drug abuse problem is spilling into many facets of life in West Virginia.

“It affects both the prison overcrowding and regional jail issues,” he said. “The crime problem. The substance abuse also then flows over into the workplace. Absenteeism, and things of that nature. Delinquency. Kids drop out of school.”

For those reasons, he said, the Legislature cannot consider a singular method of coping with the issue.

“I think we need a broad overview plan to try to coordinate all those spheres so that it’s dealt with in a more comprehensive manner,” added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com