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Treating W.Va. Substance Abusers

August 24, 2012
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

West Virginia has the highest substance abuse death rate in the nation. Yet it is on the other end of the scale of life that the crisis of drug abuse is most disturbing: Nearly one in five births in our state are linked to substance abuse, according to health officials.

Each year, many babies are born with illegal drugs and/or alcohol in their systems, according to several years' worth of studies.

Clearly, our approach to fighting drug and alcohol abuse is not working as well as it needs to.

Through the Department of Health and Human Resources, new drug treatment centers will be established throughout the state, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday. New and expanded substance abuse treatment services are being funded with $7.5 million in state funding.

That probably represents no more than a start in what needs to be accomplished.

West Virginia's budget, after several very good years, has begun to slip into red ink as a result of higher costs for the Medicaid program. The situation is bad enough that Tomblin has ordered most state agencies to prepare for 7.5 percent spending cuts next year.

That will make it difficult for legislators to find money for new initiatives such as combating substance abuse. It has to be done, however.

Law enforcement officials frequently score successes in fighting drug pushers. But as we have pointed out several times during the past few years, every big drug "bust" opens opportunities for new suppliers to step into voids created by arrests.

Certainly, the supply side of the crisis - tracking down and imprisoning suppliers of illegal drugs - needs to be pursued.

But treating abusers, including those sent to jails and prisons for drug offenses, is the necessary other half of the battle.

DHHR officials should make haste - but not waste taxpayers' money in worthless programs - to get treatment centers up and running. Tomblin's office and legislators should monitor the effort carefully and continually. And where results are achieved and need - clearly enormous - demonstrates more resources should be devoted to treatment, lawmakers should make it a priority to find more money.

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