CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Remember the civic message: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Well, a dismaying number of West Virginians waste their minds -- and damage their jobs, their future and their families -- by obliterating themselves with dope. It's a pointless, unnecessary loss.
About 30 business executives recently attended a Huntington workshop designed to help firms cope with employees who come to work swacked. They pose a danger when they operate machines, and they rack up workers' compensation claims for injuries. They reduce productivity by fumbling or by absenteeism.
A Prestera Center counselor told the assembly that about 20 million U.S. adults have substance abuse problems, and 60 percent of them hold jobs. She urged the executives to post clear rules for employee standards and instruct supervisors to keep written records of erratic behavior.
Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, reminded the executives that the 2012 Legislature allocated $7.5 million for substance abuse prevention. He said the menace is "not only affecting the fabric of our society but it's undermining our economy."
In a Gazette commentary last week, Jim Strawn of Highland Hospital said he's swamped by upsurging appeals for help with drug addiction -- especially dependence on pain pills.
"Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford pointed out that prescription painkillers cause more overdoses in West Virginia than any other state," he wrote. "Death as a result of prescription drugs quadrupled statewide from 2001 to 2008."
Highland is applying for state permission to nearly triple its number of patient beds for drug-abusers. Strawn said much of West Virginia's unemployment stems from "folks not able to pass a drug screen. Really!"
Some addicts who get help discover they had an untreated mental illness that contributed to substance abuse. Other West Virginians suffer an injury and develop painkiller dependence while trying to recover. Doubtlessly violence, joblessness or lack of opportunity contribute to the numbers of West Virginians who numb their minds.
Whatever the reason, it's a grim problem in the Mountain State. It holds back individuals and their children, and the entire state.
We think the drug dilemma should be addressed more as a medical matter and less as a criminal subject for prosecution. The police "war on drugs" isn't succeeding. It's time to give doctors and counselors more authority and more resources.