While West Virginia works on a plan to combat the drug epidemic, more than 100 people met Monday evening at the University of Charleston to share feedback, thoughts and some concerns with the Department of Health and Human Resources’ current draft.
Through small table discussions, attendees took part in conversations facilitated by state representatives spanning from the Division of Corrections to the Bureau for Public Health. They were encouraged to choose two top strategies from nine categories for the state to prioritize in the final version of the West Virginia Substance Use Response Plan.
“Help us prioritize,” said Bob Hansen, director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy. “It’s important to look at what’s important to start in the first year.”
The finalized plan is due on Jan. 1, 2020, and will lay out initiatives led by the government to pursue over a three-year period.
Many in attendance Monday came from outside Charleston — including Huntington, Fayette County and Logan — and work directly with those who suffer from addiction.
“This, in my opinion, is a good first step in helping to see — then fill — the gaps and barriers people who suffer from [substance use disorder] experience in getting help every day,” said Joe Young, a recovery coach at Help For West Virginia, in Huntington. “When people come together from all kinds of backgrounds, we’re able to find solutions and consider those different circumstances.”
Young said he had suffered from addiction, going in and out of recovery for 17 years. Now, he said, he spends his time helping connect others who struggle with similar circumstances get the help they need to enter recovery, but it’s not easy.
“You see a lot of deaths on the streets, a lot of people who could have been helped by some of the things they’re talking about in here [the draft plan],” Young said.
As someone who works daily with those struggling with addiction, Young said, he certainly thinks there should be room at the table for people in recovery, or even those in active addiction, to share their thoughts on what could work for a statewide plan.
“Some of the people who don’t have experiences firsthand [with addiction] need someone to stand next to them who has, sometimes,” Young said. “They need to ask each other questions, and come to an understanding. Ask them what they need, what could help them.”
The draft plan was put together by the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment and the DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy. Hansen said there are people involved in the process who have firsthand experience with addiction. He also said there are plans in the works to set up community meetings where those in the addiction community can express their thoughts and concerns with the plan’s policymakers before it’s finalized.
So far, the drafted plan includes 18 goals comprised of 65 strategies, which vary in detail. Those in attendance on Monday — which was the third of six public forums planned across the state — were asked to indicate 18 top priorities for the state to pursue based on five factors: impact, cost, scalability, sustainability and community acceptance.
At small tables set up throughout a room in UC’s ballroom, they asked questions about specifics of strategies and discussed them with others at the table. For an hour, they were encouraged to switch tables every 10 minutes and join other discussions.
On a yellow sheet, those who participated in the discussions were asked to rationalize why they chose the priorities they did, and turn it in to members of the DHHR.
Hansen said the feedback will be analyzed by DHHR employees and will help inform the final plan released by the DHHR and the Governor’s Council.
For Lindsay Acree, who works at UC’s School of Pharmacy, and Charles “CK” Babcock, who works at Marshall’s School of Pharmacy, it felt good to see the state taking a serious interest and attempt at facing the issue of drug addiction and dependence.
Acree and Babcock work throughout the state implementing naloxone programs in community organizations. They work directly with first responders, as well as the recovery community.
“It’s great to see that there’s an emphasis being put on responding to this, and not just opioids, but the drug epidemic in its entirety,” Acree said.
“And it’s about time, too,” Babcock added.
Acree said that, by looking at things like tobacco use and including other drugs, like meth, she believes there’s a chance to implement a plan or program that will benefit West Virginia well past the opioid epidemic.
“Drug habits are changing — we’re seeing more and more people use meth and other drugs, so we need something that can be used as a response to that, too,” Acree said. “It seems like they’re considering that.”
Ron Ramirez, who teaches at the UC School of Pharmacy, agreed. He spent time working in Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s harm-reduction program. He said he’s seen the drug epidemic — and its effects — firsthand, and is optimistic about the proposed plan opening up avenues of communication that he hasn’t seen exist before.
“This is where it all hits the forefront of communication. Look around at all the tables, from law enforcement to public health to courts to community groups — they’re all talking to each other now, and that’s what we need to face this. It’s not one part, it has to be all together,” Ramirez said. “This is a very real part of all our communities, we can’t sit back and watch it go by.”
The last three public forums will be held at:
- 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office training center, in Martinsburg
- 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Wheeling University’s Swint Hall Troy Theater
- 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center, in Fairmont
For those who cannot attend a public forum, feedback on the draft plan may be submitted via an online form at https://helpandhopewv.org/odcp.