Tom Miller: W.Va. in top 10 states for young adult drug abuse
It may come as a surprise to some people who live in this state that West Virginia is among the top 10 states in the nation when it comes to the number of individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 who are dealing with illicit drug dependence. That's why the push now underway to add more drug courts for juveniles is so critical.
Lora Maynard, deputy director for drug courts in the state's Division of Probation Services, was in Beckley last week trying to convince Raleigh County officials to consider establishing a juvenile drug court in Beckley. Currently there are 16 Juvenile Drug Courts already operating in the state. But they only cover 20 of the state's 55 counties.
During a five-year period from 2007 to 2012, there were a total of 201 graduates from the established treatment program provided for these cases of early addiction among youngsters ages 10 to 17. That alone should encourage the spread of this program to every county in the state.
These courts are a cooperative effort between the state's judicial system, various social service agencies, law enforcement officials, educational institutions and parents to place non-violent youth offenders into treatment programs rather than behind bars. Not only do these programs focus on treatment and accountability rather than punishment, but they have proven to be cost effective.
Maynard told law enforcement officers and judicial representatives at the Beckley meeting just how cost effective it is. She said during an eight-month period, the supervision and treatment for a juvenile enrolled in this program costs $6,403. In contrast, if the youngster was treated at Olympia Center in Kingwood, the cost would be $44,000. And the cost for treatment at Huntington's River Park Hospital would be $99,000.
The goal of this approach is to see the early signs of addiction in youngsters who are 10 to 17 years of age and halt that behavior as quickly as possible. The program typically runs for 32 weeks -- sometimes even longer depending on the individual -- and is monitored by a drug court probation officer.
During this period, the youngster is required to participate in random and frequent drug testing and must also attend counseling sessions with a parent or guardian. And the term "youngster" as used in this instance may surprise you.
Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller said it is so "different from adult drug court. So many kids come from environments where addiction is the norm. We see so many 10- to 12-year-olds who are already substance dependent." So this effort clearly is a move that is already long overdue if West Virginia is going to turn the corner on juvenile drug addiction.
More importantly, elementary school students have to be rescued from drug addiction before we can expect them to be able to perform in the classroom to any degree of competency that is expected for them to succeed later as an adult.
It's still more than a month away, but the findings of a special Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways due to be presented to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on July 1 could include suggestions for more miles of toll roads in West Virginia. Then the commission will conduct a series of regional meetings around the state to see what taxpayers think of this idea.
Currently, the 88-mile West Virginia Turnpike from Charleston south to Princeton (officially a part of Interstate 77) is the state's only toll road. There was an unsuccessful efforts during the recent 2013 West Virginia Legislature's session to remove those tolls in 2020 and turn the road over to the state Division of Highways.
Jason Pizatella, who is chairman of the highway commission, said the future of this state's only toll road will be a part of the study commission's report. He said it won't be an assessment of how the turnpike is maintained but rather "how the Parkways Authority should be constituted going forward."
One conclusion is that while the possibility of putting tolls on other roads in the state to help cover the growing cost of maintenance is not certain, Pizatella told a Beckley newspaper reporter last week "it certainly has to be on the table ... and a topic of conversation."
It will soon be against the law for minors to "sext" in West Virginia. Governor Tomblin signed the bill May 6 that makes it a crime for youths to "make, possess or distribute" photos, videos or other media that show themselves or another minor in an inappropriate sexual manner. The law becomes effective July 12.
Sexting, which involves sending nude and/or sexually explicit images electronically, has become a major problem in the United States. Amy Shuler Goodwin, the governor's director of communications, said the new law directs the State Supreme Court to create an educational diversion program that -- if completed -- can result in the delinquency charge being dropped.
Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.
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