WITH an average of 18.4 prescriptions filled annually per person, West Virginia far exceeds the national average of 11.6 prescriptions.
This reflects an aging and unhealthy population. It also reflects an illicit prescription-drug trade in painkillers and psychotropic drugs.
But the state also is a leader in the use of antibiotics with 1,177 prescriptions per 1,000 residents. That places West Virginia second among the states. Considering that neighboring Kentucky is No. 1, this may reflect lifestyles rather than abuse.
That does not mean there is not a problem. The overuse of antibiotics has led to the mutation of germs, which makes them more antibiotic resistant and therefore more deadly.
Urinary tract infections - the second-most common infection in the United States - are increasingly becoming resistant to antibiotics. This makes them more life-threatening.
"Antibiotic resistance is a global health problem," officials with the Mayo Clinic warned earlier this year.
"Nearly all significant bacterial infections in the world are becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics. When you misuse antibiotics, you help create resistant microorganisms that can cause new and hard-to-treat infections.
"That's why the decisions you make about using antibiotics - unlike almost any other medicine you take - have far-reaching consequences. Be responsible in how you use antibiotics to protect your health and that of your family, neighbors and community."
Overuse also drives up the cost of health care. Drug-resistant infections and the like mean illnesses last longer, require more doctor visits and require more expensive - and more toxic - medications.
There is little the Legislature can or should do, unless it can facilitate better public education and awareness of the problem.
Ultimately, though, doctors have to take responsibility. They must use their power to prescribe antibiotics judiciously - not an easy task when one's duty is to reduce the pain and suffering of one's patients.