Fixing the economy helps reduce overdoses
West Virginia leads the nation once again, this time with the highest drug overdose death rate, according to the Trust for America's Health.
The state suffered a sevenfold increase in drug overdose deaths in 12 years.
In 1999, there were 4.1 drug overdose deaths for every 100,000 people, which was on par with a homicide rate of 4.4.
By 2010, the drug overdose death rate soared to 28.9, while homicides fell to 3.1 homicides per 100,000 people.
"People in rural communities are about twice as likely to die from a prescription drug overdose as those living in urban areas," Rich Hamburg of the trust said.
That may be true, but as long as North Dakota has the nation's lowest drug overdose death rate, living in the boondocks is an excuse, not an explanation.
This waste of lives comes despite the best efforts of many good people. The Trust for America's Health praised West Virginia for eight of the trust's 10 recommendations.
The programs are there. What is missing is economic opportunity. North Dakota has the fastest-growing economy in the land.
"North Dakota's economy posted a 13.4 percent growth rate in 2012, according to a report released Thursday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis," CNN reported.
"That's nearly three times as fast as the number two state, Texas, and trounces the national average of 2.5 percent."
West Virginia's growth rate is a respectable 3.3 percent, but that does not make up for decades of slow or negative growth.
As laudable as the state's fight against drug abuse is, the long-term answer is a better economy that offers an alternative to drugs that is spelled J-O-B-S.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has outlined "A Design For Prosperity," which would remove the artificial barriers to business in a state with so many natural barriers.
Lawmakers can enact a competitive and sustainable tax system, improve its legal climate and improve its infrastructure, schools and quality of life.
West Virginia has good programs in place, which the state should continue.
But to pay for those programs and to reduce their use, lawmakers need to create a climate where businesses prosper in West Virginia, and people are too busy with their lives to turn to drugs.