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Our opinion: State must focus on drug battle

With such a steady flow of breaking news relating to the coronavirus pandemic and the presidential election for months, many Pennsylvania residents, including some people here, have not focused attention on some other noteworthy stories that at other times would have grasped their interest.

One story probably in that category was the announcement last month that the state is eying closed or downsized state hospitals, prisons and centers for the intellectually disabled for potential use as drug treatment centers.

The proposal makes sense, as long as the buildings in question can be converted for the new use for less cost than building a new structure.

It is conceivable that in some instances building new would be a better deal.

But there is something else to consider at this point. That is the question of how ready the state might be in the near future to move forward on the proposal.

Or, will this be just another issue relegated to some shelf to gather dust?

What must be kept in mind is that the drug-abuse issue remains as important now as it was before COVID-19’s arrival.

Some work plan needs to be assembled to keep the issue alive, now that the proposal is beyond the initial study stage.

State Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, sponsored the House resolution authorizing the study.

One troubling study finding was that state government lacks some important information about the structures included on the “consideration list” — information that already should be in officials’ hands.

Among the information not yet available in the detail necessary is, in some cases, general property conditions and, in others, specific repairs needed.

Gregory should continue pushing ahead to compile all of the necessary information, to remove any perceived justification by anyone for shelving the proposal in the future.

With coronavirus vaccines now on the scene, it is reasonable to believe that the pandemic will be defeated, even though the end is far from being within sight. Not so for the drug problem, which is destined to be a scourge long after the pandemic is but a chapter or couple of pages in history books.

Even if some of the buildings being looked upon for drug-treatment-center use are deemed unacceptable, that determination ought to clear the way for their removal, rather than allow them to become eyesores or dangerous.

Perhaps further evaluation might “open a window” to other possible uses, even if conversion to drug treatment centers is rejected.

The study in question, which was conducted by the State Government Commission, identified more than 40 vacant state-owned sites across Pennsylvania that are considered candidates for drug-treatment use. The study suggests that the Legislature consider selling, renting or gifting the facilities.

All of those options are reasonable for consideration on a case-by-case basis.

An article in a Nov. 12 Altoona Mirror noted the depressing statistic that 287,000 state residents are struggling with substance abuse, including alcohol — some of the cases, no doubt, related to the stresses of the pandemic.

The new report represents a strong starting point, but only that.

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