The United States has been devastated by an opioid epidemic. The 1990s, with shifting views of pain management and aggressive marketing of OxyContin, saw the beginning of a crisis that has taken the country by storm. Pain medication prescription rates skyrocketed throughout the United States, and as a result, addiction, overdose, and death have tormented the country in astonishing numbers. However, no state has suffered more than West Virginia. The Mountain State, with its struggling economy, labor-related injuries, and poor educational outcomes, is ground zero for such a crisis. West Virginia has struggled with high addiction and overdose rates. In 2017, the West Virginia Legislature passed a series of harsh drug laws increasing mandatory minimums and creating new drug felonies. These felonies are similar in nature to the nationwide 1980s drug laws, which created new felonies and, memorably, increased mandatory minimum sentences. This Comment analyzes the results of the 1980s drug laws and argues that the similar 2017 West Virginia drug laws are a step in the wrong direction. The harsh drug penalties of the 1980s led to mass incarceration, racial discrepancies, and incarceration of small-time offenders. In addition, the 1980s drug laws did not curtail drug supply and demand. This Comment recommends striking down the 2017 drug laws, and instead investing more in drug courts. Drug courts, with their rehabilitative focus, have experienced positive results nationwide and in West Virginia. Drug courts reduce recidivism and are more cost-effective, but nine of West Virginia's counties still have no access to a drug court. In addition, this Comment recommends that West Virginia diversify its economy to shift away from solely relying on extraction and mining in particular. The declining coal industry has hurt the economy, and West Virginians need to get back to work.
Shumway, Wesley A.
"2017 Drug Laws in West Virginia: The Wrong Prescription for the State's Opioid Crisis,"
Penn State Law Review: Vol. 123
, Article 7.
Available at: https://elibrary.law.psu.edu/pslr/vol123/iss2/7