CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than a year after state lawmakers passed his wide-ranging substance abuse bill, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Monday that he and a task force are closely monitoring recent proposals to bolster the state's fight against drug addiction.
In recent weeks, state legislators have announced plans to introduce bills designed to reduce the sharp increase in methamphetamine labs in West Virginia. Also, state law enforcement officials have criticized a computerized system that tracks sales of the cold medication pseudoephedrine, which also is used to manufacture meth. The tracking system -- called NPLEx -- was a key part of Tomblin's 2012 substance abuse bill.
"We continue to look at all of those..." Tomblin said at the start of a behavioral health conference Monday. "If there's something better, we want to do that."
Tomblin's Governor's Advisory Council on Substance Abuse continues to meet and suggest ways to tackle West Virginia's ongoing problem with prescription drugs and addiction, which impede economic development in the state, he said. The governor said he hasn't developed any specific proposals to further combat substance abuse statewide, but would consider recommendations before the upcoming legislative session that starts in January.
"Substance abuse is an epidemic," Tomblin said. "We can beat this. It's going to take all of us working together."
The behavioral health conference -- the first of its kind in West Virginia -- will feature dozens of speakers and health advocates from 28 states and several foreign countries through Thursday.
"Substance abuse is not just a West Virginia problem," Tomblin said. "It's a national problem. It's an international problem."
Joe Thornton, Tomblin's secretary of military affairs and public safety, praised the governor for spearheading a prison reform bill that state lawmakers passed earlier this year.
Thornton cited studies that show 80 percent of prisoners committed crimes that involved drugs in some way. Substance abuse had a $430 million impact on West Virginia's criminal justice system, he said.
"The only way we can get to the point of where we need to be is to work collectively together," Thornton said.
Tomblin established his substance abuse task force in 2011. More than 2,500 people have taken part in meetings throughout the state since then. The task force issued a report that led to Tomblin's substance abuse bill.
This week's behavior health conference is being held at the Charleston Civic Center and Marriott Town Center. An agenda of panels and speakers is available at www.wvsubstancefree.org.
"We're pulling together all these folks in behavioral health," said Don Perdue, D-Wayne, who heads the House health committee. "I believe that exchange of ideas will yield positive results."
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.