I applaud Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin for their attempts to find ways to ameliorate the devastating opioid crisis, which has claimed thousands of lives not only in West Virginia but all over our country. As West Virginians know, our state has the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the country. Nearly every West Virginian has been impacted by the opioid crisis; if not personally, then we have friends, church members, or co-workers who have members of their family in the grip of addiction, or dead because of it.
I absolutely support efforts to secure our borders, build the wall, protect our ports of entry and punish drug traffickers to the max. I support punishing the drug companies who engaged in knowingly dishonest and corrupt behavior to make money off of the addictions of innocent people.
But let’s be clear: The opioid crisis in West Virginia, and across America, is a spiritual crisis, not a material one. It’s a crisis born of despair. It won’t be solved by tax-and-spend solutions dreamed up by politicians, who always think that throwing money earned by others at a problem will eventually solve it.
Sen. Capito has touted the so-called “success” of government programs to solve the opioid crisis, claiming in January that opioid deaths in West Virginia were down 8.5%. Unfortunately, this is not true. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while prescription opioid deaths are down, synthetic opioid deaths are up — way up. According to the CDC’s reports from 2016 and 2017 (the most recent years available), the deaths from all opioids, including heroin and methadone, rose more than 14%, and the death rates from synthetic opioids other than methadone increased by more than 42%. Deaths from all opioid overdoses are not falling: They are still rising.
Genuine leadership requires an understanding of the depth of a crisis and the hard work it will actually take to solve it. True leadership is about long-term solutions, not short-term fixes — fixes that don’t really fix anything.
I believe in my heart of hearts that the people of West Virginia know this to be true. They see the malaise around them. They know the reasons why their loved ones turned to drugs in the first place: as a way to sooth their tortured hearts and worn-out spirits. No amount of federal money will ease the troubles of the human heart.
Solving crises like this one takes a long time, and they require rebuilding culture and community. This one will require finding new ways to bring industry and jobs into West Virginia, not just federal grant money. Robbing our neighbors and mortgaging our children’s futures never solved anything.
Hope is the only answer to despair. We need to better integrate faith communities into this common battle that we have to wage against this terrible plague together. Spiritual problems require spiritual assistance. Our secular culture has no answers to the deepest questions and fears of the human soul. It is that culture, as much as anything else, which has created this culture of death.
It will be said that refusing government money — which is really taxpayer money — is cruel or lacking in compassion. I can only respond that throwing money at a problem which isn’t going to fix it is not compassion. Finding real solutions that take the long-term common good of all citizens into account is the truly compassionate approach. Making sure that no one ever feels the need to turn to opioids again is the true task ahead of us — all of us.