Substance abuse costs West Virginia some $116 million each year in health care costs. By 2017, that cost could exceed $201 million — that is, if we continue to do nothing about the problem.

We must do something. These ailments are preventable, yet they prevail in our communities.

Our state currently spends about $8 million on substance abuse treatment. That’s nowhere near the estimated $23.5 million a year recommended by the Prevention Resource Center to combat the problem.

“If the state can be assertive about this, within less than 10 years, the effort could pay for itself,” Wayne Coombs, director for research and development at the Prevention Resource Center, told The Associated Press.

These researchers say the only way to bring down the amount of money spent on providing health care for preventable ailments stemming from alcohol and drug abuse is to spend more money now. Not just on treatment, but on early intervention and recovery.

Lawmakers must listen. Obviously we don’t have a handle on the problem, and it sounds like we’re going to have to spend more money in order to save money down the road.

It will be worth it.

Much more than a financial burden in the realm of health care, substance abuse is directly linked to all sorts of crimes. Any attorney will tell you that more often than not, a crime such as larceny, robbery or breaking and entering stems from an underlying drug or alcohol abuse problem.

Coombs’ figures apply only to the health care system. Our thought is that the additional costs linked to substance abuse-related crimes are equally disturbing.

West Virginia’s lawmakers must do something and do it soon. No one wants to spend more money, especially at a time when funding is so limited. But this is a situation that must be considered from a cost-benefit perspective.

Too many lives are lost, too many dollars are spent and too many crimes are being committed because of drug and alcohol abuse.

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