Federal money could be redirected to drug battle

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — President Barack Obama is in Charleston today, leading a discussion about West Virginia’s prescription drug and heroin epidemic. Likely part of that discussion will be treatment of those who are trying to battle their addiction.

While the aim is to stop addiction before it starts, the stark reality is there are an estimated 60,000 West Virginians in need of substance abuse treatment, right now. Though the Mountain State has had about ten years to adjust to the fact that heroin is claiming an increasing number of lives (longer for prescription painkillers and methamphetamine), there are still only about 750 beds in state treatment facilities. The West Virginia Behavioral Health Providers Association reported approximately 15,000 people received drug or alcohol abuse treatment in 2014 – about one-fourth the number who needed it.

There is a shortage of clinics and other treatment facilities, AND a shortage of qualified therapists to tackle the problem. Of course, there is also a shortage of funding for everything right now, let alone building new facilities and training therapists.

But wait, the federal government just sent more than $1.5 million in grant funding to West Virginia, in the form of POWER funding – Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce Economic Revitalization. It is money meant to help the federal government atone for the devastation in the coal fields. The money is being used for things like $826,000 for a water project in the town of Union, or $600,000 for the Coalfield Development Corp. “to promote economic diversification.”

It is no secret there is a link between the economic woes cause by the assault on extraction industries and the catastrophic increase in substance abuse in West Virginia. As long as all ideas are on the table, then, what if some of the federal funding intended for revitalization and diversification was spent on building a few facilities and educating therapists and experts in prevention?

Such an effort would create jobs, which are desperately needed as one component in this fight; would help boost the state’s healthcare industry, furthering the diversification effort; and provide treatment for those who need it so badly. It is certainly worth a moment or two of today’s discussion.

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