The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

August 23, 2012

Greenbrier tackles drug abuse and addiction issues

MAXWELTON — Representatives from social service agencies, the medical and religious communities, law enforcement and the courts, along with public officials shared their frustrations about the growing drug problem in Greenbrier County during an open forum Wednesday.

Sponsored jointly by Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, United Way of the Greenbrier Valley, Family Resource Network, Seneca Health Services and Fritz’s Pharmacy, the forum was billed as a “community conversation” about addiction and drug abuse.

“We need to begin somewhere,” Laura Lee Haddad of the United Way of the Greenbrier Valley told the gathering of more than 50 people in the Seneca Health Services conference room.

Recapping the many comments offered by participants in the forum, moderator Marcie Vaughan said, “We have a lot of resources ... that maybe we didn’t know about until today.”

Vaughan, who is vice president of clinical services for Seneca, opened the conversation by saying, “The drug abuse/addiction problem is ... a huge problem for law enforcement, for employers and for families.”

Those attending the forum readily expanded upon that opening statement.

Saying, “I want to be involved in the dialogue,” Lewisburg Police Chief Tim Stover pointed to a “major increase” in prescription drug abuse in his jurisdiction.

Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via said that drug abuse “is the single biggest contributor today to crime in Greenbrier County.”

Assistant Prosecutor Ryan Blake predicted that Greenbrier County will exceed 200 felony indictments this year, the first time serious crimes have topped that benchmark.

Cpl. Brian Baker of the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department’s narcotics unit said, “We realize it’s a community problem, not just a law enforcement problem.”

He said, while 99 percent of the cases he currently takes to the prosecutor’s office are connected to prescription drugs, heroin is now making inroads in the region.

Steve Cook, a member of the pastoral staff at Rhema Christian Center, said the church is committed to helping prevent and curb drug use in the community.

“The faith community needs to step up,” he said.

Cathy Rennard, also affiliated with Rhema, noted the church offers a Christ-centered 12-step program for substance abusers and is preparing to launch a youth program open to the community at large.

Stephen Baldwin Jr., a Presbyterian minister and newly-elected member of the Greenbrier County Board of Education, emphasized that substance abuse cuts across all segments of society.

“This is not a problem of a particular class or a particular generation,” he said.

That point was bolstered by Bill Lewis, representing Sen. Jay Rockefeller at the forum, who said, “We have (seen everyone from) millionaires to the poorest of the poor that have had problems with drug addiction.”

He also agreed with other speakers who described addiction and abuse as a workforce issue, noting that one of the most prevalent topics West Virginia employers discuss with the senator’s office is the problem they have finding employees who can pass mandatory drug tests.

Katie Ickes, executive director of the Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce, had earlier raised the economic issue, pointing out that drug use can prevent a person from earning a living, while also discouraging potential employers from investing in an area that is unlikely to be able to meet their workforce needs.

She suggested the forum’s organizers seek details on plans of action to address the drug problem that have proven successful in other communities to help formulate a plan for Greenbrier County.

“We don’t have to re-invent the wheel,” Ickes said.

Others attending Wednesday’s forum spoke about the impact drug addiction has on the addicts’ children, who have poor role models and little encouragement to get an education. Statistics show one in five pregnant women and teens in West Virginia are abusing and using drugs, Greenbrier Valley Medical Center’s director of marketing Melissa Wickline said.

GVMC recently received a $90,000 grant to help provide an intervention program targeting those moms and their at-risk babies, she added.

Rainelle Medical Center also provides home-based services for pregnant women and teens, as well as having protocols in place to monitor prescriptions for narcotics.

Many agreed that prescription monitoring could be made more effective with better cooperation from the state Board of Pharmacy and the development of a national real-time database, which would help curb prescription “shopping” across state lines.

“Our nurse checks six states individually (before a prescription is issued),” Vaughan described the protocol at Seneca.

Promising the attendees at the initial “community conversation” that additional meetings will be scheduled, Vaughan said, “We have heard and recognized that this community has a problem. We want this group to go forward.”

To join the conversation, e-mail

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