Foster said polls show that close to 60 percent of West Virginians would support a tobacco tax increase in some form to support substance-abuse treatment.
"For me, I think it's good policy and a public health tool," said Foster, who is a physician. Raising the cigarette tax a dollar would decrease cigarette usage by 5 or 6 percent, he said.
Statistics about how an increase in the alcohol tax would affect drinking are not clear, but the tax increase would raise revenue, Foster said. Tax proposals on lottery resources have not been outlined.
West Virginia currently taxes tobacco at 55 cents per cigarette pack. There is a 7 percent tax on loose tobacco, as well, according to a spokesman for the state Tax Department. The state collects a tax on lottery winnings, and alcohol also is taxed.
House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, who proposed last year's failed increase in the cigarette tax, said that, eventually, the severity of the state's drug problem will demand a money stream.
"Funding for all parts of substance abuse is going to become such a critical need that we won't be able to walk away from it," said Perdue, a pharmacist. "We will have to find a revenue stream. The likelihood of coming up with another source is remote."
As of 2008, West Virginia had the highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States. The number of prescription drug overdoses had surpassed motor vehicle crashes and falls and was the leading cause of accidental death.
Drugs and alcohol account for almost 80 percent of the incarcerations in the state, Perdue said. The number of foster children is growing, due in part to the substance-abuse problem, he said.
"I think we're in real danger of losing an entire generation to substance abuse," he said. "Losing that generation predicts dangers for the following generation, as well, so that's how critical it is."
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.