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Overcoming West Virginia's meth addiction requires action

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John R. Hoblitzell practices law at Kay Casto & Chaney PLLC in Charleston. He was a Republican member of the House of Delegates from 1985 to 1988, where he served as the minority chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

I urge the West Virginia House of Delegates to follow the lead of our state Senate and pass Senate Bill 6. The bottom line for Kanawha County and many surrounding districts is that methamphetamine addiction is a far more toxic, costly, deadly and permanently injurious problem for our community than our recent water crisis will ever be. 

SB 6 represents a significant step toward the mitigation of the meth epidemic and deserves the support of our Legislature and the governor. 

I practice law with a young attorney who often serves as guardian ad litem in family court matters involving domestic abuse and child neglect matters. All too frequently, she sees an incalculable cost of meth addiction in broken homes and broken children. At home, the attorney worries about the toxic exposures suffered by her husband, a policeman, who is exposed to meth vapors in the course of his work. 

As a member of the Charleston Area Medical Center board of directors, I hear reports on babies born in our hospital and across West Virginia which indicate 20 percent to 30 percent of the newborn population has been exposed to maternal substance abuse. In many cases poly-substance abuse by the mother is demonstrated. 

Meth addiction contributes to these terrifying statistics. The newborn addiction problem has become so acute that we must now develop detoxification programs, like Lilly's Place in Huntington, to serve the newborn population. The state's Medicaid program will bear much of the cost. In severe cases, permanent neurological damage is done, requiring expensive specialized medical and public school services and a lifetime of impaired opportunity for the innocent newborn. The adult population of meth addicts often become emergency room frequent flyers at CAMC and other hospitals. They drain hospital staff resources and are often uninsured. Thus, much of the cost of their care is born by the privately insured, whose health insurance premiums subsidize the hospital's charity care. 

As the news media daily reminds us, the loss to owners of rental properties, hotels and motels from property damage runs into the millions of dollars. The loss to business owners through theft, workplace injuries and employee impairment also must be significant. The poor in our communities bear the brunt of the crime associated with meth addiction, but all of us share an increased risk of crime and injury from impaired drivers, home invasions and street crime. The retail pharmaceutical industry arguing for the status quo pays none of these societal costs associated with meth addiction. 

Unfortunately, the meth problem is spreading throughout West Virginia as the recent spike in Wood County cases demonstrates. The cost of meth addiction is born by taxpayers in multiple budget areas for staff, equipment and facilities. Several come immediately to mind: Child Protective Services, police, courts, jails, prisons, juvenile detention, special education, detoxification programs and mental health. It seems evident that minimizing these meth-related costs will generate millions in cost savings to budget-strapped state, county and local governments for many years to come. 

Requiring behind-the-counter, tamper-resistant substitutes for pharmaceutical compounds containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine is a small price to pay for a significant reduction in the abuse of meth.