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Delegate seeks $10M to fight substance abuse

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Delegate seeks $10M to fight substance abuse

Picture of Alison Knezevich
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The head of the House of Delegates health committee is calling on Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin to increase funding to fight drug and alcohol abuse. 

House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue wants Tomblin, who is acting as governor, to find at least $10 million in the state's $4 billion budget so the state can improve substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery programs.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Perdue wrote that the cost of drug and alcohol abuse includes incarceration, medical expenses, lost productivity, and meth lab cleanups.

"The cost in lives and dollars is mounting faster than we can comprehend," the Wayne County Democrat wrote. 

West Virginia has the nation's highest rate of drug overdose deaths.

During the legislative session that ended Saturday, Perdue and some other lawmakers unsuccessfully pushed to nearly triple West Virginia's tobacco tax to fund substance abuse programs and other health initiatives. The tobacco industry and retailers fought the proposal. 

Perdue said Wednesday that $10 million would be a start for stepping up the fight against drug abuse.

"Is it enough? Probably not," he said. "But will it save lives and money for the state of West Virginia? It certainly will."

 Many West Virginia addicts can't find treatment services, said Perdue, who called the state's drug problem "a catastrophe." 

 "It's at our feet, and for some reason we just can't seem to recognize it," he said.

Perdue has long pressed for more money for these programs. He said Wednesday that former Gov. Joe Manchin's administration had "shown no real interest" in boosting the funds, but he hopes Tomblin will make the issue a priority.

Tomblin spokeswoman Jacqueline Proctor said she could not provide a comment on Tomblin's response to the letter.

Perdue is a member of a House-Senate conference committee that is working on the state budget this week.

On Saturday, the House passed a bill that would have given about $10 million to drug and alcohol programs. The money would have come from an account allocated for a Lottery Commission building that was never constructed. The legislation did not pass the Senate.

In the past, Perdue has tried to raise the state's beer tax to pay for substance abuse programs. 

He said he knows alcohol and tobacco tax hikes are politically unpopular, but that he introduced the measures to "expose the issue" of addiction.

"If it means I have to raise a specter of a tax, then I'm more than willing to do that," he said.

At a public hearing on the tobacco tax, legislators heard from recovering addicts and West Virginians who have lost loved ones to substance abuse.

"We can't continue to act like we don't know they exist," Perdue said.

Reach Alison Knezevich at alis...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.