Drugs remain Blair County’s biggest problem

Blair County has much for which to be proud.

It is built upon a strong foundation of loyal, dedicated, hard-working people, as well as governmental leaders who are unceasing in their determination to make the county even better from all vantage points possible.

It has a beautiful landscape with many wonderful recreational and cultural amenities.

It has a strong business presence; likewise, its many educational resources no doubt are envied by others.

There also is a strong religious presence, and there are many services benefiting those who are hard-pressed or otherwise needy.

Yes, there are problems amid all that is good; no place is problem-free.

For Blair, one of the biggest problems — if not the biggest — is the illegal-drug scourge.

Amid that problem is the increasing toll of drug-overdose deaths — a growing toll that was the subject of a front-page article in last Sunday’s Mirror.

Even if some larger metropolitan areas would not characterize Blair’s toll as horrific, compared with their own, the local toll merits that description from the standpoint of what otherwise is this county’s greatness as a place to live, work and raise a family.

Commendably, the drug problem is being attacked on many fronts here, not just by law enforcement.

Unfortunately, the problem continues to worsen — not only regarding drug-related deaths but also in terms of younger people becoming hooked, even senior citizens, many of them from opiate medications prescribed for pain management.

Ten years ago, five years ago, even three years ago, few county residents envisioned that Blair’s drug-related death toll would reach an average of one a week. However, according to autopsy reports compiled by Coroner Patricia Ross, that’s the unwanted toll that this county recorded in 2017 — 52 drug-related deaths — and the 2016 figure of 48 wasn’t far behind.

No basis for being proud about those numbers, regardless of the numbers being recorded elsewhere.

The drug problem is exacerbated by the fact that it’s not centered within a particular age group. All age groups have become victims.

Law enforcement must continue its crackdowns on the drug trade, and the courts must remain committed to long jail sentences for major drug dealers, and delivering a strong message to those convicted of less serious drug offenses.

Health professionals must more closely monitor those for whom opiate medications are prescribed, and state government must deal with the issue of mandatory in-patient treatment for overdose victims who emergency responders are able to save.

It’s not naive to believe that major inroads against the overdose-death toll will be possible — eventually.

“Eventually” is the right word because making significant inroads might have to wait until arrival of a new generation better schooled at an earlier age about what to avoid and how.

Between now and then, it’s to be hoped that the number “52” won’t be eclipsed by overdose-fatality numbers much higher.

Unfortunately, the possibility for that remains too real.