When West Virginians talk about the state's drug problem, the focus often is on heroin, marijuana, prescription painkillers, "bath salts" and similar substances. But antibiotics? What's wrong with pharmaceuticals many people view as miracle drugs?
Plenty, if they are overused - and Mountain State residents may be doing just that.
A study by the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation indicates West Virginians use antibiotics at a much higher rate than most other Americans. In 2010, there were 1,178 antibiotic prescriptions filled for every 1,000 residents of the state. That is the second highest rate of use in the country.
What is problematic about use of antibiotics is that when overused, they can result in germs that are resistant to drug treatment.
The health care community's response to disease-causing microbes that develop resistance to some antibiotics has been to develop new ones. There is some concern that strategy will not work forever.
State health officials should look into West Virginians' use of antibiotics. This is one situation in which a large federal research grant would be appropriate, to determine whether our use of antibiotics is so high it is contributing to the problem of drug-resistant germs - and if so, what can be done to alleviate the problem.