A call to action for all West Virginians

We are in a crisis — one that can only be solved with a great deal of hard work and engagement from citizens across our state.

Opioid addiction continues to decimate West Virginia, reducing our workforce, tearing apart families and ultimately, claiming lives day after day.

This reminds me of an old tale about a frog in a boiling pot. The story went that a frog in a slowly heated pot would not jump out, but would unwittingly stay in the water until it boiled.

While modern science has disproven this once widely-held assumption, the metaphor is still instructive. Every West Virginian must realize the growing dangers associated with our state’s opioid epidemic.

Each and every day, we are inundated with news of the drug crisis. With all of the negative news around us, it is easy to become desensitized to the drug problem. Yet this is when we most need to charge into the fight with vigor and a renewed sense of purpose.

Unfortunately, the demand for opioids remains incredibly high.

We need more action now from people and communities across our state, as well as local, state and the federal governments. All of us must fight this problem from a supply, a demand and an educational perspective.

We believe all stakeholders should be held accountable, as evidenced by our office filing lawsuits against all culpable parts of the pharmaceutical supply chain. We are enforcing the law against physicians, pharmacies, wholesalers and manufacturers who have flooded our state with pills. Some of our work included shutting down a pain clinic and reaching $47 million in settlements with 12 drug wholesalers, a record-breaking amount for our state.

The dealers who peddle drugs in our communities must also be punished. We contribute to the fight by cross-designating two lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

So far this partnership has garnered eight convictions. This means eight fewer dealers peddling their poison to our kids — a win for our communities and example of everyone pulling together for a common cause.

We must also change the financial incentives to prescribe opioids, and urge prescribers to avoid recommending such highly addictive and deadly medications as a first-line treatment option.

Last year, we set forth best practices for prescribing and dispensing opioid-based medications. Our strategy gained support from more than 25 national and state stakeholders. It emphasized the need to watch for warning signs of drug abuse and consider non-opioid alternatives, such as physical, occupational and massage therapy, along with chiropractic medicine, acupuncture and over-the-counter medications.

While there are many initiatives that are needed to combat demand, our office is partnering with grassroots efforts in communities that are working to solve the crisis in their backyards. Recently, we have been working to equip faith-based organizations and other individuals who seek to help our citizens avoid the perils of addiction.

Our office has also helped advance a number of educational initiatives to fight drug abuse. This includes crafting legislation to increase opioid education, partnering with nursing students to spread the message in middle schools and sponsoring a “Kids Kick Opioids” public service announcement contest to engage elementary students and raise awareness statewide. We also implemented a high school sports initiative to highlight the risks of prescription opioid use in young athletes.

These efforts are helping families, but the addiction crisis is a massive issue that will take everyone’s involvement. We cannot sit. We must be proactive.

There is no “quick fix” for this epidemic.

It will take hard work, treatment for those who need it most and a concerted effort between law enforcement, prosecutors, prescribers and particularly, citizens to make additional progress on this problem and help West Virginia reach her full potential.

(Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.)

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