If asked, most West Virginians probably would say that drugs are a big problem in the state. However, most may be surprised to learn that West Virginia leads all states in the number of prescription overdose deaths.

The study, released last week by the Trust for America’s Health, says that in 2010 – the latest year available – prescription overdoses killed 28.4 out of every 100,000 West Virginians. This is a 605 percent increase since 1999 when the overdose death rate was 4.1 per every 100,000 people.

While prescription drug abuse has skyrocketed in the last decade, so has use of other drugs. Every day it seems there are arrests made for the manufacture or use of meth. And even that demon of the past – heroin – has become a drug of choice in recent years because of its relatively low cost and high availability.

There are many reasons given for the growth of drug usage not only in West Virginia, but all across the country. Availability surely is a reason, but it doesn’t explain why so many more people are turning to drugs in the first place.

The economy has been at least partly responsible. Certainly, a better economy – one that offers the promise of a better life for our people and our children instead of the hopelessness that now exists in many areas – would help. The incredible rise in the number of overdose deaths in the last 15 years mirrors the hit the state’s job market has taken in that same period of time.

Whatever the reasons for the increase, drug addiction – not the EPA – is the biggest threat this state is currently facing. So far, the fight has been waged mainly by law enforcement who, along with medical community, county health departments, and groups like Trust for America’s Health, whose studies show just how serious this problem has become, are the groups manning the front lines.

Many people may feel little sympathy for drug abusers and feel these people are getting what they brought on themselves. However, in the wake of every drug overdose death, there are grieving family members left behind to feel the pain of loss and wonder how it could have happened.

We certainly do not have the answers to this problem. There are no simple answers. If there were, drug usage would not have grown to the extent it has in the past several years. But all of us – citizens, law enforcement, the medical community and the state Legislature – must help find those answers. It is not an exaggeration to say our state’s future is at stake.