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Dale Stephens: State must do more to fight drug abuse

Oct. 22, 2012 @ 11:15 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one of a series of columns written by candidates in contested races in the Nov. 6 general election.

Having served the people of Cabell and Wayne counties in the state Legislature for over a decade, I have worked on many of the problems that face West Virginians every day. One of the greatest challenges is the growing level of prescription drug abuse.

Until recently, a great deal of prescription medication was funneled to West Virginia via the low-cost flights at Tri-State Airport to and from Florida. Until 2011, Florida did not have an active database to track the disbursement of prescription medication, making the state a favorite of those who deal in the illegal prescription drug trade. While Florida's database has helped to slow incoming pill traffic, there is still much we need to do to protect our children.

One problem recently identified by law enforcement agencies is the absence of a way to track prescription medication that was paid for in cash. Most people use some sort of third-party insurance when purchasing prescription medication, and this information is fed into a database that allows insurance companies to track waste. A bonus of this system is that law enforcement could use this database to monitor suspected illegal activity. We need to give our current system more teeth so that it may be used in a proactive way to curb abuse.

One important step we can take is to mandate that pharmacies place cash purchases of prescription drugs in a database similar to the way medication purchased by health insurance companies is documented. We have done this once before with over-the-counter medications used by meth lab operators and have taken some steps to track prescription drugs, but we must take it further.

Another step is to make sure that proper rehabilitation programs are in place for those who have become addicted. Rehabilitation should always be preferable to incarceration. Many of the people who have fallen victim to addiction are our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and should be given the proper treatment to return to being healthy productive members of society. I will work to make sure that our state's social service agencies have the funding they need.

Doing nothing is not an option. We owe it to our children to take on this problem now so that future generations will not have to suffer. I believe my experience working with others throughout the state and strong ties with Speaker Thompson give me an opportunity to act on this now that none of my challengers have. My door is always open, and I enjoy communicating with and assisting my constituents with the issues affecting them. I would be honored to represent you for another term in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Dale Stephens, a resident of Huntington, is a Democratic candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates from the 17th District, which includes the western portion of Cabell County and the northeastern tip of Wayne County.

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