Desperation: Substance abuse fight will require effort

Officials from across the education spectrum in West Virginia gathered last week in Parkersburg to announce the MVB Bank Opioid Awareness Summit that will bring thousands of Mountain State students to Morgantown and Huntington in September to begin a project meant to “Be A Game Changer” in our state’s fight against the substance abuse epidemic that has crippled it for so long.

Presidents of Marshall and West Virginia universities and Pierpont Community and Technical College were joined by the head of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission and the state superintendent of schools in a show — it’s about time — that this extended tragedy warrants collaboration of unprecedented magnitude.

If all those big brains, and the institutions they administer, truly are working hard on finding solutions to the problem, it may very well prove to be an important step toward ending this nightmare. It must not, however, turn into another public relations stunt and college recruiting effort.

During the announcement, the epidemic was referred to as a “crisis of despair.” It is not simply opioids. It is methamphetamines and any number of other drugs; it is smoking/vaping; it is alcohol abuse; it is economic hopelessness … it is a sense of resignation.

Social/cultural factors that have led to the desperate state in which our kids find themselves (and in which our schools are trying to educate them) go far beyond opioids. To make the shifts needed to truly overcome this epidemic, we must throw out very much of the way it has always been (or, at least, the way it has been for far too long) in West Virginia. That won’t happen during two sessions in September.

It is vital, then, that those sessions be, as presenters said last week, just the start. It must be an effort and a change in attitude that lasts for many years.

Any attempt to make a difference for West Virginians suffering under this plague is welcomed. There is a great deal of hope wrapped in this one. Surely the folks who have created such anticipation in inviting young people to “Be A Game Changer” will not let us down.