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Drug Crisis: Real change is needed to combat problem

If the human toll is not enough reason for some elected and bureaucratic officials to take seriously the fight against substance abuse and addiction in our state, here is one that might come closer to speaking their language: According to the Center on Budget and Policy, treating and addressing substance abuse and addiction cost West Virginia an estimated $11.3 billion in 2019.

In economist Jill Kriesky’s report, she includes the costs that have sprung out of the addiction epidemic such as hepatitis, HIV, neonatal abstinence syndrome and an overburdened foster care system. Her report estimates economic damages from drug-related fatalities in West Virginia were $9.8 billion in 2019.

In other words, approximately 15 percent of the Mountain State’s gross domestic product is being spent on this crisis, without any real solution in sight.

But if we’re throwing this much money at the problem, why isn’t it making a difference? One reason is our failure to tackle the root of the epidemic. We have failed to address our flailing monolithic economy, we have failed to talk about the socio-cultural reasons for our attitudes toward education, the fantasy of the economic stalwarts of the past, crippling poverty, substance abuse, mental health … and change. Those who are not struggling have failed mightily in the one thing that might make a difference. We have failed to give hope to those who so desperately need it.

What now? Making the real change needed, and sparking the hope that will come with it is not as easy as writing another piece of legislation, spending a little more money. If the folks running the show are genuine in wanting to finish this monster, once and for all, they’ve got a lot of work to do — and it is not the kind they’re used to.

But so do the rest of us. Are we ready?

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