Wakeup Call

CDC stats tell tale of opioid crisis

If we hope to ever make a dent in the substance abuse crisis in West Virginia, we have to convince young people misusing drugs is a bad idea. We are not doing very well at that.

Each year, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts an annual High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey. It measures how frequently high school students engage in unsafe/unhealthy actions ranging from failing to wear vehicle seat belts to having sex.

Use of illicit pharmaceuticals ranging from steroids to heroin is covered in the survey, which provides both national and state-level data.

If responses by Mountain State students are an accurate gauge of the high school population as a whole, substance abuse in several categories is substantially greater than national averages.

A sampling of survey results:

• Six percent of West Virginia high school students have tried cocaine. That compares to 4.8 percent nationally.

• Compared to the national average, twice as many high school students, 3.4 percent, have tried heroin.

• Methamphetamines use is nearly as bad. Of Mountain State students answering the CDC’s questions, 4.6 percent had tried meth, compared to 2.5 percent nationally.

• One very minor bright spot involves abuse of prescription drugs, including those containing opioids. There, 12.5 percent of West Virginia high school students said they had taken such drugs without doctors’ prescriptions. The national average is slightly higher, at 14 percent.

• One extraordinarily distressing statistic involves access to drugs. Asked whether they have bought, been given or offered illegal drugs while on school property, 24 percent of West Virginia high school students said yes. The national average is 19.8 percent.

Obviously, that last number means we need to do more to crack down on illicit drug trafficking in our schools.

Taken as a whole, however, the CDC’s statistics are a wakeup call concerning how well we are doing in convincing young people to avoid substance abuse. Unless we do better, a whole new generation of West Virginians will perpetuate the drug abuse crisis in our state — and many will die in the process.