Opioid Epidemic: W.Va. needs solutions to substance abuse

No one living in the thick of West Virginia’s substance abuse epidemic needs to be told it is exacting an enormous cost — from everyone. But a reminder by John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, puts some numbers on that cost.

There are healthcare costs, judicial costs, lost economic productivity and lost potential, according to Deskins.

According to his bureau’s research, the lost available economic output amounts to an estimated $322 million; and the lost economic productivity by drug users who are still managing to remain employed is approximately $190 million.

If such a situation was reversed, “If a business has $190 million in economic output, it has to buy economic input, to buy labor, and workers have additional income to place into the economy; it provides a multiplier effect,” Deskins said.

Among the many reasons for the substance abuse epidemic’s laser-like focus in Appalachia is the depressed economy — the lack of jobs and hope for a brighter future. The possibility of a nearly $84 billion investment in the state over the next 20 years could help change some of that. But West Virginia cannot put the cart before the horse — all the jobs in the world will do no good for those who are unemployable because they cannot free themselves from the grip of addiction, and/or do not have the proper education and training.

There is a lot of work to do if the Mountain State is to be ready to reap the benefits of that kind of investment; and it starts with a renewed desire — perhaps spurred by Deskins’ concrete numbers — to turn the tide of the substance abuse epidemic. No idea should be off the table. What if Shenhua Group Corp. is willing to invest a few million upfront toward state-of-the-art treatment, rehabilitation and job training facilities, for example.

It would be worth asking.