Cultural element of drug abuse must be tackled

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Mine Safety Office says the number of coal miners in the state who failed a drug test last year was lower than in the previous year. Good news, right?

Well, no.

According to Eugene White, director of WVMSO, 290 miners failed drug tests in 2015; 314 failed in 2014 and 310 failed in 2013. That means 24 fewer coal miners tested positive for drug use in 2015; but 2014’s figure was actually a bit up from the previous year. Meanwhile, the coal industry has lost thousands of jobs in West Virginia over the past five years.

White confirmed that the lower number of test failures appeared to be because there are fewer miners working, not because there are fewer miners using drugs. Combine that with the fact state law requires coal mines to test just 25 percent of their employees, and the picture is even grimmer.

Much of the argument about how to stop the drug plague in West Virginia centers around improving the job market and economy. The thought is that if folks have good jobs and a steady income, they are less likely to risk being dragged into the world of drug addiction. Improving the job market is an enormous piece of the puzzle, but it is not the whole picture. The 290 miners who failed tests last year WERE working, and had very much to lose. They chose to use drugs, anyway.

Mining companies are working with their employees to fight drug use. Schools, governments, hospital and, of course, law enforcement are all on the same page when it comes to eradicating substance abuse. Companies are forced to drug test potential employees, in addition to those already working, when they operate in West Virginia.

Yes, creating more good jobs and a more secure economy are vital. But when solid companies find themselves incapable of maintaining a drug-free workforce to fill the jobs that already exist, policy makers had better acknowledge there is a cultural, educational and societal element that MUST be tackled as well.

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