Drug Abuse Bad For Our Economy

West Virginia’s top economic development concern may not involve coal, natural gas or the lingering effects of the recession. It may be drug abuse.

Alcohol- and drug-related crimes cost the state $429 million last year, according to a study by the West Virginia Prevention Resource Center. That is just the cost of investigating and prosecuting crimes resulting from substance abuse, and housing those imprisoned for it.

But as U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has pointed out, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Employers have complained to him they have trouble filling job vacancies because of drug and alcohol abuse.

Educators are painfully aware of the problem. Children hooked on alcohol or other drugs usually do poorly in school. When their parents or guardians are substance abusers, the all-important education support network is weakened – or collapses entirely.

The problem may be growing worse. As many as 152,000 Mountain State residents have substance abuse problems, studies estimate.

These are not numbers pulled out of the air. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for West Virginians under 45 years of age. The number of overdose deaths increased 550 percent from 1994 to 2004.

A shocking study in 2009, conducted at eight hospitals in the state, found 20 percent of babies born there had been exposed to drugs while still in the womb. Last year, one of those hospitals did a follow-up test involving babies’ umbilical cords – and found the percentage had increased to 33. That’s one in three babies born in that hospital.

The national average is 4 percent.

Good Lord. Substance abuse already is a social and law enforcement crisis in West Virginia. Clearly, it is having an adverse effect on our economy.

Let’s be frank: Our state already suffers from unflattering stereotypes. Add to that a reputation as a state full of addicts, and what corporate executive in his right mind would locate a plant or store here?

We don’t have the money – or the time – to waste on anti-drug fads or politically correct approaches to the problem. West Virginians need to find ways to take a massive bite out of substance abuse immediately.