The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 26, 2013

Progress made, but drug war continues

Lawmaker: Scourge will get attention on many fronts

CHARLESTON — Every 19 minutes, someone in America succumbs to drug overdose.

That’s roughly three per hour, which is why West Virginia political and community leaders are making the silent epidemic a major issue in the coming legislative session.

Just this week, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin unwrapped the report of his Advisory Council on Substance Abuse, one that leans to a great extent on funding abuse treatment efforts in six specific regions of the state.

Not only should existing centers be maintained, but the council, in a year-end report, called for enhanced development of community-based, post-treatment recovery and prevention coalitions.

“There is no question that we are making headway on several important fronts,” says Debra Curry-Davis, director of faith-based One Voice in Pineville.

“Drug abuse awareness in the state and nation has brought this very serious problem finally to light. We continue to work to increase awareness and effect change.”

Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, whose 9th District has become a focal point of a prescription pill scourge, says drugs remain “a significant problem” that will grab the attention of lawmakers on many fronts.

“The recommended legislation from the council is going to be a great place to start,” Green said Friday.

“The report lays the foundation to not only address substance abuse, but it will also assist in tackling the prison overcrowding issues that has handcuffed our local county governments.”

By all accounts, drug and alcohol abuse account for upwards of 80 percent of all incarcerations, with regional jails holding a severe backlog of state-sentenced inmates with no room in prisons. Consequently, the packed regional jails are putting a strain on county commissions to satisfy their jail obligations. In Raleigh County, for example, the cost is some $2.5 million, prompting Commission President Dave Tolliver to recently dub it “a $2.5 million drug bill.”

Green expects a session “filled with much debate,” considering the emphasis on drug abuse and education reforms.

“I look forward to hearing the governor’s legislative proposals at next month’s State of the State address, and I am eager to work and ensure these proposals become law,” he said.

Curry-Davis applauded the work of drug task force regional meetings, saying goals are being met.

“There is more to do, however,” she said.

“We must continue to work together to rid communities of illegal drug use through a comprehensive approach that includes educating youth and the public, coordinating substance abuse prevention and treatment, and providing support for families and friends of substance abusers.”

Curry-Davis says she eagerly is waiting to see what unfolds in the Legislature in the months ahead.

“The grassroots community organizations are still the most valuable asset to prevention, education, treatment and recovery.”

On the national front, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., went before a Federal Food and Drug Administration hearing to pitch for a change in elevating hydrocodone-combination drugs from Schedule III to Schedule II.

“Whenever I go back to West Virginia, I hear how easy it is for anybody to get their hands on hydrocodone-combination drugs,” Manchin said.

“The personal stories I hear from so many West Virginians convinced me that this change is so critical.”

After listening to testimony the committee voted to reschedule the addictive drug.

It will now be up to the full FDA to implement the committee’s recommendation.

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