Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

It Will Take Us All to Solve the Drug Problem

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

It Will Take Us All to Solve the Drug Problem

Article excerpt

I was surprised and alarmed by some recent statistics. In a November Kaiser Health Tracking Poll nearly 56 percent of responders said they had a personal connection to the prescription painkiller abuse problem - either because they knew someone who had taken a prescription opioid that wasn't prescribed, knew someone who was addicted or knew someone who had died from an overdose. With West Virginia's dubious distinction as a leader in overdose deaths, our percentage is likely even higher.

Further data from this poll is also eye-opening. By a significant margin (63 percent), whites are more likely to report a personal connection to the problem than blacks (44 percent) or Hispanics (37 percent).

We are also learning that addiction should be considered a disease rather than simply a moral failing - perhaps the clearest message from the president during his Charleston visit in October.

The depth of our state's drug problem undoubtedly encouraged Obama to come here. He was aware that, with a national average of 13 overdose deaths per 100,000 people, West Virginia had hundreds in 2015 - in Charleston 60, and Huntington 121.

Yet, the White House also wanted to highlight that, here at ground zero, there are individuals committed to going beyond just talking about the issue and actually doing something. Specifically, in just a little over a year, the Mayor's Office of Drug Control Policy in Huntington has formed partnerships with all of the major stakeholders, has created a strategic plan utilizing prevention, treatment and law enforcement, and has begun to actively implement that plan.

These prevention efforts focus on youth at community centers and after-school programs, but also on actions to prevent individuals who already suffer from addiction from causing irreparable harm to themselves. For nearly a year, health leaders in Huntington have campaigned for increased access to the lifesaving narcotic antagonist naloxone. …

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