Losing the War

W.Va. struggling to fight substance abuse

West Virginia’s war against substance abuse — and to judge by the casualty rate, it is a war — needs to be fought on multiple fronts. Good for state Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, for proposing a package of tactics.

Think of the drug abuse epidemic as a three-act play. In the first act, victims are found. That can happen because people decide to take illegal drugs regardless of the risk — or because they become addicted through legitimate use of painkilling medication.

In the second act, the addicts buy illicit drugs from pushers who have infiltrated our communities.

In the third act, drug abuse kills some victims, while others attempt to beat addiction.

For many years, the emphasis was on intervention during that second act, by arresting suppliers of illegal drugs. Now we know we have to attack the problem at every stage.

Weld’s ideas focus on keeping people from becoming addicted, then helping them wean themselves off opiates.

As we reported, he wants state legislators to consider several bills during their next regular session, early next year:

• Weld believes more needle exchange programs are needed. There are six now, including one in Wheeling. The senator believes such initiatives help link drug addicts with health care workers.

• He wants more availability of the non-addictive drug Vivitrol, which is a better alternative than methadone and Suboxone to help opioid users beat addiction.

• Limits on the lengths of time opioid painkillers can be prescribed should be enacted, Weld thinks.

• Those who need painkillers should be able to obtain fewer than doctors have prescribed, should they choose, Weld recommends. Currently, pharmacists are required to fill prescriptions fully.

• Finally, the senator wants a requirement that health insurance cover treatment for drug addiction.

Doubtless some of Weld’s ideas will be controversial. Legislators should give his entire package careful consideration, however — because it is a wide-ranging attempt to broaden the state’s offensive against substance abuse.

That needs to happen. As matters stand in the war against drug abuse, West Virginians are losing.