We need all the help we can get

A column by Mike Myer, executive editor of The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Ask a general or admiral about the key tenet of how to wage war: When you’re in one, you throw everything you have at your foe.

We West Virginians and Ohioans are in a war right now. We’re taking massive casualties. And we’re losing.

The enemy – drug pushers, many from out of our area – may number only in the low thousands. Their weapons are heroin, pain pills, methamphetamines and other abusable drugs.

Stories we published last week brought up the question of strategy and tactics in the war against drug abuse. One was on a program in Cabell County, through which users of intravenous drugs can trade in their used needles for sterile ones. The other stories were about drug courts and other initiatives that send addicts – who often are pushers themselves – to treatment rather than prison.

Why help folks who “shoot up” with dirty needles? And why go easy on drug pushers? Shouldn’t we be sending them to the slammer to get straight?

That hasn’t worked very well. Too often, sending an addict to prison means that when he gets out, he goes back to drugs.

A story about Belmont County’s drug court has some interesting numbers. Only 196 of the 336 people accepted into the program have graduated. One cynic suggested half the graduates may have gone back to drugs. That leaves a success rate of only about one-third.

But that one-third represents nearly 100 local men and women who turned their lives around, with help from the drug court. They are people who will not die of overdoses and will not be peddling drugs to support their own addictions.

That’s a battle won, if only a small one.

As far as needle exchanges go, the idea in Cabell County – relevant to other areas, including ours – is to prevent epidemics of hepatitis and HIV beginning in the drug culture and spreading to non-users.

This one is a defensive battle, but an important one.

Every weapon we can find needs to be used in the war against drug abuse. Will many kids make fun of those anti-drug public service messages? Maybe – but if they keep a few hundred teens out of the drug culture, that, too is a battle won.

The bottom line is that we need all the help we can get to win the war against drugs. Otherwise, we – or worse, our children or grandchildren – are going to lose.

This is one we must win.

Myer can be reached at: [email protected].

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