The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


February 21, 2014



Editor’s note: The Register-Herald’s parent company, Community Newpaper Holdings Inc., has papers all over the United States. Each Friday, this space will be dedicated to what one of those papers thinks about the issues facing the nation.

JOHNSTOWN — The stereotypical drug abuser has always been pictured to be a teen or young adult.

They are the targets of public service announcements – the ones urging parents to keep a closer watch on their medications, learn the warning signs of drug abuse and to seek help when it affects to their loved ones.

But county coroners have turned that image on its head.

Many of the drug abusers of today are the parents, people 40 years old and older, CNHI state reporter John Finnerty revealed in an eye-opening story last week.

Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski reported that his department logged almost one overdose death per week this past year, compared with only 29 deaths in 2012.

That is shocking.

And in Crawford County, in northwest corner of Pennsylvania, Coroner Scott Schell reported that deaths by drug overdose jumped from 32 in 2012 to 41 last year, a nearly 22 percent increase.

Most of the overdoses, the coroners say, are not caused by the drugs most people would assume abusers would use – heroin, cocaine and crack.

No, most of the overdoses were caused by people abusing prescription drugs.

Kwiatkowski said of the cases his office investigated, the dosages barely would be considered lethal, except that, in some cases, alcohol also was involved.

Schell reported that most of his cases involved “old hippies,” people in their 60s and 70s who have been drug users for most of their lives.

Schell’s data is plausible because we have reported many times of abusers having to turn to more potent drugs in order to achieve their highs.

State officials, however, are perplexed by the new revelation.

In 2012, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs was formed to look into substance abuse. Its secretary, Gary Tennis, told a Senate committee recently that the agency has created guidelines for doctors to follow who were treating patients for pain. And it has created task forces to deal with overdoses.

But he also said his group’s efforts have been hampered because state agencies responsible for tracking and releasing information on fatal overdoses have not done their job, thus the data often is inadequate and unsatisfactory.

If we are to get a handle on this epidemic that is gripping the state, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, then everyone has to pull together to find solutions.

Several already have been suggested. One would be the introduction of tamper-proof prescription forms, perhaps similar to printed currency, that would make it more difficult to forge drug orders. But that has languished in a Senate committee for almost a year.

Another suggestion is a database that monitors all prescriptions so that doctors and drug stores could readily and rapidly track and identify pill-shopping abusers.

We urge our local legislators to act quickly on the proposed suggestions and not push them aside in favor of more glamorous legislation. The dark underbelly of drug abuse already is digging its tentacles into our state. Let’s not wait until it has a death grip on Pennsylvania.

The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

Text Only
  • Missing from the show

    If they attended, lawmakers would see strides made by TWV

    July 31, 2014

  • VA breakthrough

    Compromise shows Congress can put partisanship aside for the proper cause

    July 30, 2014

  • Doughnut holes

    Annexation benefits outweigh the taxes

    July 29, 2014

  • The play’s the thing

    TWV twins reveal local riches that can’t be found anywhere else

    July 27, 2014

  • Primary care

    DHHR program weans folks away from the ER

    July 24, 2014

  • Rain? What Rain?

    Community still enjoys auto fair despite uncooperative weather

    July 23, 2014

  • Do tell

    It’s hard to keep a secret in today’s here-a-camera, there-a-camera, everywhere-a-camera world. Whatever one does that is embarrassing is immediately posted on YouTube, Facebook or other social media of choice.

    July 22, 2014

  • Juvenile justice

    West Virginia nearly doubled the rate it sent youths to juvenile facilities from 1997 to 2011, in contrast to declining rates of youthful incarceration elsewhere in the United States.

    July 20, 2014

  • Thumbs — Saturday, July 19, 2014

    July 19, 2014

  • Do something

     Johnstown police have charged three men in the brutal murder early Sunday of a city academy student.

    July 18, 2014