Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball: After the grief must come action

By WV UMC Admin

The following editorial was published in the Charleston Gazette
Friday, October 23, 2015

We learned earlier this year that West Virginia had the highest rate of overdose deaths in the country. Roughly 629 souls taken from us too soon every year.

Mr. President, please remember those souls.

And remember that they were once young children. If this trend continues, roughly one in 30 children are going to die of overdoses.

Imagine a kindergarten class in West Virginia today. The average kindergarten class you visit will have one student in it who will grow up and die of an overdose. Not to mention the many more who will become addicted.
This problem is not as complicated as it seems. We know from experience that drug-testing poor people does not work. But we know what does. Yes, we need more and better prevention measures. Yes, we need more and better coordination among mental health providers, especially for children. West Virginia was recently reprimanded by the Department of Justice for how it treats mentally ill kids. Yes we need a better economy that gives folks real hope for a better life.

But the best answer is: Treat the disease.

Our state government conservatively estimates that there are 60,000 addicts who need help in West Virginia right now. Drug abuse is an epidemic that kills. Imagine if 60,000 West Virginians had contracted Ebola or Avian Flu. But instead of treating it like a disease with a cure, we treat it like a crime.

The 60,000 people who need help right now have only 750 treatment beds, and even for folks lucky enough to get access to a bed, there is no guarantee they can afford it. For some addicts right now, prison is their best opportunity to receive treatment. The answer to disease is not incarceration, but care.

Too many of our friends and family members are dying. We grieve. We cry. We wring our hands. We hold forums. Now we must act.