Putnam County is affluent, with many middle-class professional families living in expensive subdivisions (especially in Teays Valley south of I-64). But this fashionable, attractive county also suffers a nightmare: rampant drug addiction and petty stealing by addicts trying to support their habits.
It's almost as if abusers subconsciously crave suicide, prosecutor Mark Sorsaia told reporter Lydia Nuzum. He explained:
"They're destroying their lives. They're destroying their health, and they're on this frenzy of drug abuse, and you see them killing themselves. It's the 20-year-old kid who's living under a bridge, dealing with drug dealers and breaking into outbuildings and stealing weed-eaters for their next fix."
Sorsaia said a "pandemic of addiction" is overwhelming Putnam police and courts, imposing a costly burden on taxpayers.
"This is the group that's driving prison overcrowding and skyrocketing jail costs," he said. "It is the people we are putting in jail and prison because, if we don't, they're going to kill themselves. It's an entirely new dynamic of this business."
Instead of locking teens in steel cells, Putnam courts try to divert them to day-report centers and treatment programs. But day-report director Jamey Hunt said the nearest treatment clinic, in Huntington, is expensive, with a monthlong waiting list. Addicts can't wait even one day without "jonesing" (suffering desperate craving), he said.
Meanwhile, the dismal "Oxyana" documentary was shown in Charleston Tuesday night, and a panel of experts said it accurately portrays the despair of addicts in Wyoming County -- and many other West Virginia locales.
What's the best hope to solve this menace? West Virginia's new network of adult and juvenile drug courts offers bright promise. The courts force abusers into counseling, job-training, group sessions and other aid. This operation is much cheaper than locking abusers in prison. It helps many offenders regain control of their lives.
Here's another suggestion: Drug warnings in health courses in middle schools and high schools could be intensified to show teens that narcotics can lead to ruin, failure, lies, deceit, waste of potential, police records, poverty, and sometimes death. The movie "Less Than Zero" conveyed that message vividy. Although unaddictive marijuana is as harmless as beer, and should be legalized, harder dope is for losers.
If adolescents see the ugly future posed by strong narcotics, maybe the wiser ones would live clean and not sink into pathetic lives like those afflicting Putnam, Wyoming and other counties.