West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin’s comments this week on drug abuse were distinctly bittersweet.
Speaking to attendees at the annual West Virginia Chamber’s annual Meeting and Business Summit in White Sulphur Springs, Benjamin talked of successes in the state’s drug court program. It has spread throughout the state as a result of the high court’s recognition drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions.
About 500 people – including several in Wood County – already have graduated from the drug courts, which use a no-nonsense approach to helping them get their lives back on track. “Those are lives that are being saved right now,” Benjamin said, adding that another 500 people currently are participating in the program.
That certainly is good news. But the bitter reality, as Benjamin is well aware, is that drug court success stories are just a drop in the bucket compared to the extent of the problem. As in other parts of the state, drug busts are all too common here. And many other types of crime have at their roots, drug addiction problems.
Both Supreme Court justices and judges in lower courts deserve high commendation for their efforts, of course. And so, as Benjamin noted, do Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislators for creating new programs to help drug-addicted convicts “get clean.”
Much more needs to be done to get drug abuse, involving both illegal substances and legal but misused medicines, under control, however.
That is why comments by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, also at the business summit, were so welcome.
Morrisey said his office has formed a five-person task force to attack the problem on a comprehensive basis, working with local law enforcement agencies throughout the state. The attorney general pledged West Virginians “are going to like what you see over the course of the next few months.”
We hope so. While better efforts are being made to treat drug addicts, as Benjamin noted, it seems the campaign to attack the supply side of the problem – illegal drug manufacturers and street pushers – is fighting a losing battle.
A coordinated attack on drug suppliers – whether those operating out of backroom, or portable “meth labs” or those selling legal medicines they know are destined to be abused – needs to be mounted in West Virginia.
Kudos, then, to the Supreme Court and those in local drug courts throughout the state. But more needs to be done to keep West Virginia residents from getting the drugs that make them need help – and we hope Morrisey, working with law enforcement officials, is able to come up with a decisive new approach to that.