Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, believes the federal government should become more active in countering drug addiction. She chaired a forum on drug abuse at the South Charleston Public Library on Wednesday afternoon.
Tennant pointed to several disturbing statistics, including:
| Heroin overdose deaths in West Virginia more than tripled between 2007 and 2012.
| In 2013, West Virginia had the highest mortality rate for taking overdoses of prescription drugs In the nation. That rate more than tripled between 2007 and 2012.
| In 2013, West Virginia police seized 533 methamphetamine labs, an increase of 85 percent over meth labs seized in 2012.
Meth labs were active in 45 out of the state’s 55 counties, including 159 labs in Kanawha County alone.
Tennant said education is a key to stopping the increasing use of drugs, especially education programs for young people.
“Drug addiction is tearing our families apart and hurting our economy,” she said. “I don’t think there has been enough national attention to the problem.”
Dr. Bradley Henry, a general internist who is also registered as a pharmacist, said, “There was a paradigm shift in the early 1990s to prescription drugs. OxyContin really changed things.
“Before that, you did not treat chronic pain with painkillers. Today, prescription drugs are almost surpassing marijuana as an entry-level drug.”
When those prescription pills become too expensive, Henry said, many users then switch to heroin, which is cheaper.
Deborah Letourneau works at Urgent Call, a recently-founded program in Putnam County. She said the new program works “to mobilize people in the faith-based community” to help combat rising drug addiction.
Connie Owens, a mother of three children spoke about her own experiences.
“I am an addict. I was struggling with addiction for 25 years, addiction to alcohol and smoking pot,” she said. “After alcohol, I got on prescription medicine. Then I got clean from prescription drugs too.”
Owens said faith-based people helped her overcome her addictions.
Cpl. Brian Humphreys, a deputy with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, said fighting problems arising from drug addiction is “very taxing and budget draining.”
“Addiction leads to a lot of other crimes, including murder, sexual assault, child abuse and embezzling money to pay for drugs,” Humphreys said.
Tennant said, “Everywhere I go, I see the promise and possibility of West Virginia. But we can’t reach our full potential unless we invest in our greatest resource: our people.
“The drug abuse crisis does not discriminate — everyone in West Virginia knows someone who has been affected.”
Tennant said she “will always put West Virginia’s interest above drug companies. Dangerous drugs, like Zohydro [a controversial painkiller that contains hydrocodone], have no place on our pharmacy shelves.”
Tennant also believes the government should create a national database to stop addicts and pill pushers from shopping for drugs in different states.
The government should also build more treatment centers to help people suffering from addiction and then to help them lead productive lives after their recovery, she said.
Tennant said she also supports expanding mental-health care facilities in the state to help prevent and treat drug addiction, and cracking down on doctors who overprescribe.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.