By Wendy Holdren
Mountain State University’s School of Graduate Studies hosted the first of a series of addiction symposiums Thursday.
Dr. William M. White, dean of Graduate Studies, welcomed students, faculty and the public.
Before the symposium began, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” played on the projection screen.
White says he did this intentionally, “because too often, we don’t put a face on drug addiction.”
“Too often we try to hide drug addiction,” White said. “It’s at an epidemic level. We are very, very frightened by what’s happening. Particularly in West Virginia and particularly with prescription drugs. In the past, those are the drugs we’ve closed our eyes to.”
Guest speaker Becky Neal, director of intergovernmental affairs for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office, then took the stage to discuss how drug abuse is being addressed across the state.
Neal asked who in the audience who had been affected or knew someone who had been affected by substance abuse.
Nearly every hand was raised.
Although the problem is widespread in our state, Neal says the problem also has a national scale.
Neal said substance abuse and addiction adversely affects more than 23 million people throughout the U.S. at a cost exceeding $500 billion annually.
In West Virginia specifically, an estimated 152,000 people over the age of 18 have a substance abuse problem.
Our state ranks highest in the nation for retail prescription drugs filled at pharmacies.
She says substance abuse affects everyone and all aspects of society.
Not only does it affect families and communities, but it causes crime rates to escalate, and treatment facilities and prisons to overflow.
While Neal and Tomblin were speaking with members of the community, they found out that drug abuse greatly affects the unemployment rate as well.
Neal says she spoke to the owner of a furniture store who was looking for a delivery driver.
He said out of 27 applicants, only three passed a drug test.
“Where do we begin?” Neal asked. “We can’t fix this overnight, but by golly, we can give it a shot.”
Tomblin created the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse to help fight this growing problem.
Members come from a variety of places, including the medical community, faith-based leaders, cabinet secretaries and education professionals.
Neal said in order to address different drug issues across the state, six regions were created. Raleigh County is a part of Region 6, along with Webster, Pocahontas, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Monroe, Summers, Fayette, Wyoming, Mercer and McDowell.
The Comprehensive Behavioral Health Providers for Region 6 are Seneca, FMRS and Southern Highlands.
She says the task force has met four times in 23 counties representing the six regions of the state, and over 1,300 have attended these meetings.
“There are 1.5 million people in West Virginia. We need everyone to be there.”
GACSA recommendations include funding for substance abuse treatment, educating the youth, sharing statistics and updates with drug providers, improvement on state efforts to prevent “doctor shopping,” and more options for intervention and after-care recovery.
Neal also says bills are going through the House (4336) and Senate (437) that address the Prescription Monitoring Program, reporting time of prescriptions issued from pharmacies and regulations of pain and methadone clinics.
Many families have spoken with Neal, saying that the methadone clinics have simply been a way for their family members to “get a legal high” and they had no intention of trying to get clean.
Neal reported that many regulations have been implemented for meth clinics in these bills.
She added that if these bills are passed, clinics must provide every person with an individualized treatment plan and random drug screenings will be given to all patients.
“These are no-brainers, yet they weren’t being done.”
She left with a closing message from Tomblin: “We must dedicate ourselves to addressing substance abuse and drug-related crimes. Doing so will allow us to reinvigorate our education system, recruit and expand jobs, make our communities safer and send a clear signal to the country that we are serious about building the workforce and maintaining the wonderful quality of life in West Virginia that makes us the envy of so many.”
Rev. James H. Cox attended the symposium and said he found the information very beneficial.
“It definitely is a problem in our area. So many people don’t know how to handle it. How do you approach it?” Cox said.
“It’s difficult when you can’t find a job. When people do not reach out and help you to stay off of drugs, then there’s usually no place to go but back to what you know. We do have to get involved. As a president of the NAACP, we will get involved with that.
“As a pastor, I will also be getting involved. I got great information today so I can use that to at least get started and help the governor do what he wants to in this situation,” Cox commented.
Additional symposiums in the series will be scheduled in March and April.
— E-mail: wholdren@ register-herald.com