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In a War

Drug overdoses claim thousands in W.Va.

During just five years from 2014-18, drug overdoses claimed at least 4,098 lives in our state. That is nearly twice the number of West Virginians who perished fighting in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. Any questions about whether we are engaged in a war against substance abuse?

A symposium being held this week in Roanoke, W.Va., is intended to find better ways to address the crisis.

Sponsors for the event provide an idea of how seriously the epidemic is being taken: West Virginia University’s School of Public Health, WVU School of Osteopathic Medicine, Marshall University, The Health Plan and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

Our state has been unchallenged for several years as having the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. Earlier this year, Gov. Jim Justice suggested we may have turned a corner. Preliminary estimates for overdose deaths last year indicate there were 952 of them — slightly fewer than 2017’s total of 974.

At that rate of improvement — if final numbers indicate there really was any — West Virginia will continue to be devastated for many years to come.

State policymakers and public health experts have tried a variety of approaches to the challenge. It would be foolish to assume they have not helped. Without efforts in addiction treatment, law enforcement, etc., the overdose death toll might have been worse.

Clearly, however, we need something more. Let us hope those gathered for the symposium have fresh ideas — “out of the box” proposals — that may help. If we do not find some effective approach soon, too many West Virginians will pay the ultimate price for our failure.