The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 22, 2013

Every aspect of W.Va.’s substance abuse problem must be reviewed

Guest Column

By Patrick Morrisey

— Substance abuse is a terrible plague on our state and a growing problem nationally. West Virginia has one of the highest prescription drug overdose rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thousands of babies in our state are born addicted because their mothers used drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. Methamphetamine labs are on the rise and stretch law enforcement resources to the bone.

The state’s battle with drug abuse is one of the Attorney General Office’s most important consumer protection initiatives. Generations of West Virginians are at risk if we do not act soon. That is why, for the first time ever, our office has created an internal task force to address this critical issue.  

Since January, we have worked diligently to beef up our expertise and capabilities. We hired top-notch prosecutors with experience handling substance abuse cases and employed accomplished investigators to pursue violations of the law whenever they occur. Our consumer outreach specialists will begin educational efforts focusing on this problem with citizens throughout our state.

One of my goals is to ensure federal, state, county and private-sector resources are effectively coordinated to attack this epidemic. This is difficult given the complexity of this issue, but it is essential to our success. Over the past few months, we have met with and spoken to many individuals and groups to learn as much as possible about efforts already under

way to fight this affliction. We have worked to identify areas where our Office can take steps to educate citizens, assist law enforcement and create new initiatives to fight this serious battle.

I have personally discussed this issue or participated in meetings with federal prosecutors, county officials and sheriffs, the State Police, local police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Guard, and other state attorneys general. I also have personally discussed or had meetings on prescription drug abuse strategies with community leaders, employers, physicians, an anti-counterfeiting company, Walmart and other pharmacies, including Fruth Pharmacy — which is testing a new approach to address the meth problem — as well as with representatives of both Cardinal Health and McKesson, two of the largest drug wholesalers operating in our state.

We are seeking input from and will meet with any individual or organization that can help West Virginia overcome this challenge. All constructive suggestions are welcome, as there is no “quick fix” to substance abuse.

Our efforts are just beginning. Over the next few months, we expect to release a number of detailed initiatives to tackle substance abuse. These won’t be silver bullet solutions, but they will help move our state forward and place the weight and power of the Attorney General’s Office toward saving lives and reversing some terrible, life-shattering trends.

Recently, some people have tried to use this issue for political gain. Some have sought to cast the office in a negative light because we will not discuss whether any specific investigations are ongoing. Under the law, we are prohibited from discussing the contents of any pending formal investigations or even confirming whether an investigation exists.

No one in the state can solve this problem alone. That means setting aside political differences, not taking political cheap shots at one another, and accepting practical, cost-effective solutions. We cannot solely sue, spend or indict our way out of this mess. The long-term solution to the substance abuse epidemic in West Virginia will take a comprehensive effort by hundreds of different stakeholders attacking both the supply and demand sides of the problem. That’s why our request for input is so critical. Our office is investing significant time, energy and resources behind this challenge; I hope everyone will join me in this endeavor.

— Patrick Morrisey is the attorney general of the State of West Virginia.