Abuse of both legal and illegal drugs is taking a terrible toll among West Virginians. It appears the problem is growing.
Drug abuse is nothing new. One of the big epidemics occurred during and after the Civil War, as a result of use of morphine and opium pills to dull the pain of wounded soldiers.
But now, those who want to escape from reality have hundreds of subtances - again, many of them perfectly legal - from which to choose.
Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin revealed last week he is appointing a task force to study drug abuse. In making his announcement, he cited the problem in our area. "From the influx of heroin in the Northern Panhandle to the abuse of prescription drugs in our southern counties, to the methamphetamine use in our areas with a larger population, this epidemic is destroying Mountain State families and jeopardizing the well-being of our children," the governor stressed.
As Tomblin pointed out, drug abuse wrecks families and endangers the futures of our children. Sometimes that occurs directly, when young people become hooked on drugs. In other situations, their parents become addicts.
In large measure, we know the problem. We hope Tomblin's task force does not spend much time on anecdotal evidence of the extent of drug abuse.
Instead, the panel should bend its energies to identifying solutions. Perhaps more resources that would allow law enforcement agencies to cut off the supply of illegal drugs would help. Steps to monitor use of legal - but often abused - pharmaceuticals and common household chemicals might prove beneficial.
No doubt task force members will understand the new epidemic is but an upswing in what has been a problem in West Virginia for generations. Sad to say, we haven't come up with a good strategy to fight it in the past - but that does not mean state officials should give up trying. Clearly, the stakes are too high for Mountain State residents to admit defeat.