Attitudes must change about scourge of drug use in W.Va.

About 800 people attending a national summit in Orlando, Florida last week spent three days discussing ways to cure this country’s deadly fascination with drugs.

Congressman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., kicked off the event by warning those present that America is engaged in a “societal war” that must be won to guarantee its future.

He knows, as many others do, that West Virginia and neighboring Kentucky have some of this nation’s greatest problems with the growing use of narcotic painkillers, which has in turn created a dramatic increase in criminal acts aimed at getting money to purchase drugs.

Several states were represented at the conference, but Rahall emphasized that 
West Virginia has the highest death rate in the nation attributed to the misuse of prescription drugs. His theory is that because of this state’s high percentage of senior citizens, medications often are over-prescribed, increasing the availability of these drugs to thieves.

Individuals from several counties in southern West Virginia including Cabell, Logan, Mercer, Raleigh and Wyoming attended the conference. Capt. Tim Bradley of the West Virginia State Police and other law enforcement officials from this state also were present.

At a drug summit he organized at Twin Falls State Park in Wyoming County a year ago, Rahall was able to bring in local, state and federal authorities as well as private citizens to begin focusing attention on the problem of substance abuse in the southern part of West Virginia.

He contends this state’s leading death rate can mostly be attributed to the misuse of prescription drugs, outnumbering cocaine, heroin and highway accidents combined.

Rahall continues to emphasize the fact that the best tool to cope with this problem is prevention and one that will require a large financial investment by state government. And he maintains his position that the cost will be small compared to the savings it will provide for this state’s economy, its work force and productivity.

There is some organized effort to attack the problem. Among those attending the Tampa conference were individuals from a community group in Mercer County and the founder and director of a faith-based group that has been battling the drug problem for several years in Wyoming County.

Lawmakers danced around the problem at the recently concluded 2012 session of the West Virginia Legislature and came up with no significant financial support to attack this growing problem of substance abuse in the state. That’s shameful behavior by our elected officials.

Rahall claims attitudes must change at the local level as well as statewide. Currently, most people seem more intent on ignoring the problem than in becoming a part of the solution. And until that attitude changes, the problem will continue to expand and this state — and the entire nation — is going to lose “a generation of our smartest and brightest,” in Rahall’s words.

Meanwhile, the upcoming primary election race for the Democratic nomination for commissioner of agriculture continues to get more attention than the races for other statewide primary election races, mostly because it has more interesting competition. First Mike Teets, a Hardy County Republican and the party nominee four years ago who gave Democrat incumbent Gus Douglass a close race, announced he’s endorsing one of the five candidates in this year’s Democrat primary.

Earlier Douglass, who is retiring at age 85 after serving as agriculture commissioner for 44 years, had endorsed Steve Miller, an assistant agriculture commissioner who has been with the agency for nearly 30 years. But in doing so, he passed over another key member of his staff, Deputy Commissioner Bob Tabb who is a former member of the House of Delegates from Jefferson County.

Teets originally filed to run for the office again this year but then dropped out of the GOP primary race in February, citing personal reasons. He said he favors Walt Helmick who has been in the Legislature for more than 20 years, recently serving as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. There are two other Democrats running for the party’s nomination in next month’s primary — Joe Messineo of Roane County and Sally Shepherd of Kanawha County.

The winner of the Democrat primary will face Republican Kent Leonhardt of Monongalia County in the November general election. Leonhardt has no opposition in next month’s GOP primary election.

Finally, my sons often reminded me during their formative years when they had done something wrong that, “nobody’s perfect, Dad.” That excuse can also apply to the West Virginia secretary of state’s office, which must print new ballots and reprogram voting machines in all 55 counties because of an error on the original ballots for next month’s primary election.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s office has admitted that it gave incorrect ballot instructions on just how many at-large delegates Republican voters could select to be sent to the party’s national convention in Tampa in August. There are more than 100 Republicans running for the 19 seats and the original ballots indicated voters could only choose 18 selections. Unfortunately some absentee voters have already been sent ballots containing the incorrect information while others received a ballot with the mistake covered up by a corrective sticker.

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