Conquering Substance Abuse in West Virginia
Substance abuse is a crisis both in West Virginia and across America. Recent information shows drug overdoses now kill more West Virginians than car accidents. Drugs are the leading cause of accidental deaths in our state, and we have the nation's highest rate of drug deaths. Even more alarming, 9 out of 10 of our overdose deaths involve at least one prescription drug. Drug abuse in our state is a pervasive problem with tragic consequences. It shatters families and erodes our communities. I have made this issue one of my top priorities.
Since becoming governor, I’ve worked hard to identify the underlying causes of this crisis. I’ve traveled to towns and cities throughout our state to meet with the people who know their communities best—citizens, doctors, law enforcement, and many others—to see the problems firsthand. Their stories were heartbreaking and revealed the true complexity of the issue.
Last September, I formed the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse and six Regional Substance Abuse Task Forces—this was the first step in my long-term action plan. The Task Forces brought together individuals from local communities to identify each region’s particular issues and underlying causes. By meeting regularly, they were able to make recommendations to the Advisory Council. Together they reviewed each region's recommendations and developed a plan to rescue our families and communities from the persistent drug problem. Many of their suggested actions were included in my substance abuse bill, which the Legislature passed this spring.
The new law cracks down hard on the underlying causes of our state’s drug problem by strengthening many of our enforcement guidelines and implementing many critical reforms. It allows us to shut down so-called “pill mills” and stop “doctor shopping,” while also protecting legitimate pain clinics and making sure those with real chronic pain can receive treatment.
I’ve addressed this issue further by concentrating on the needs of our workers and employers. When meeting with business owners from around the state, I have been told time and again that our workforce has the skills necessary for the jobs available but one of the main obstacles businesses face is finding qualified candidates who can pass a drug test.
Each year thousands of West Virginians looking for employment go through Workforce West Virginia, a division of the state Department of Commerce. Workforce West Virginia provides a vital service for our state; they offer numerous training programs and maintain a database for employees and employers to connect. Many folks receive these free services and then they fail the employer’s drug screening and can’t be hired. When prospective employees fail to pass a simple pre-employment drug screening, the individual and the business owner both suffer.
As a solution, I signed an executive order, which requires Workforce West Virginia, to require drug testing before providing services to those seeking employment. This change will save taxpayer dollars by ensuring participants in Workforce West Virginia’s training are drug-free and ready to work. I believe this will help employers find qualified employees, create drug-free workplaces, and will allow even more people to establish firm roots in our great state.
We have made great progress, but there is still work to be done. The message is clear—West Virginia is serious about protecting the wonderful quality of life we have come to expect. We must be more than just aware of what is at stake. We must create expectations of success in combating the problem and look at substance abuse from all levels. I know it will take our combined efforts to win this war, and I hope you will join me as we work together to rid our communities of the heartbreaking consequences of substance abuse.