WASHINGTON – West Virginia's best days are ahead of us – this I firmly believe.

But, before we can reach our full potential, we must tackle the drug addiction epidemic that is crushing our communities.

The number of lives being lost to drug abuse is devastating. West Virginia leads the nation in overdose deaths, and because we are such a small state, we feel this pain more than most.

This issue crosses all boundaries of age, race and gender. It does not discriminate.

One of my priorities as West Virginia's newest Senator is using my position to bring more attention and resources to the table so we can tackle this problem.

Recently, I convened a drug prevention summit at the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department in Martinsburg with the intent of bringing more national attention to this very serious problem so that we can marry our efforts at the federal, state and local levels.

Federal officials, including Michael Gottlieb, national director of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, law enforcement officials and advocates participated in a panel discussion intended to lay the groundwork for tackling this epidemic head on.

What came out of the summit was a better understanding of just how destructive the scourge of drug addiction is in the Eastern Panhandle and throughout the state. Between 2009 and 2013, 49 heroin-related deaths occurred in Berkeley County alone.

Statewide, the numbers aren't any better. In 2013, a total of 157 people perished due to heroin-related overdoses in West Virginia. And, according to preliminary numbers from West Virginia's Vital Registration Office, there were more than 151 heroin-related overdose deaths in 2014.

These aren't just numbers, these are neighbors, friends and family members. For Kathy Stevens Butts, it was her 23-year-old daughter, Tiffany, who died from a heroin overdose in November 2014.

Kathy shared her heartbreaking story with us and advocated for the solutions needed in order to save lives.

The clear takeaway from Kathy's testimony – and the overwhelming consensus from all involved in Monday's panel discussion – is that there is a desperate need for substance abuse treatment facilities in West Virginia.

While there are professionals and mental health providers ready and willing to assist, the demand for treatment and lack of resources is overwhelming.

As we heard from area businesses and homeowners, the lack of treatment options isn't just a problem for those suffering from addiction. It also impacts businesses seeking to hire new workers and help employees in need of treatment. It hurts homeowners concerned with declining neighborhoods and home values.

This message was heard loud and clear.

Tom Carr, executive director of the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program, called Monday's drug prevention summit an "eye-opening experience." He pledged to look into the region's lack of treatment facilities and other solutions.

In addition to improving drug addiction treatment, we must also continue to take steps aimed at cutting off the drug supply chain.

In February, I introduced bipartisan legislation to address drug trafficking. This legislation responds directly to the recent increase in heroin and methamphetamine trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border.

We also need to bring more accountability to the FDA and ensure that medications are thoroughly reviewed before the FDA makes a decision on its approval.

Lastly, we need to protect first responders, medical professionals and family members who are educated in administering overdose prevention drugs in emergency situations of overdose. I was proud to be an original sponsor of the bipartisan Opioid Overdose Reduction Act.

Far too many West Virginians have been affected by the loss of a family member or friend because of a drug overdose.

This week's drug prevention summit underscored the need for a spectrum of solutions at the federal, state and local levels in order to combat this epidemic. Solving West Virginia's drug problem will take efforts from customs and border patrol, public health officials, pharmacies, addiction and treatment facilities and many others.

While a problem of this magnitude will be challenging to tackle, together we can take meaningful action to protect our communities and our people, and ensure that our best days are ahead.

Capito is West Virginia’s junior United States senator.




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