Charleston officials and a nonprofit group housed at the University of Charleston say they’ll be working together to reduce drug use in the city.
The partnership between the city’s Coordinated Addiction Response Effort (CARE) office and the West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute at UC was announced at a Monday news conference. The two groups are still talking with leaders in cities with similar programs to the CARE office, like Huntington, Boston and Dayton, Ohio.
WVDII and the city have also hosted eight listening sessions in the Charleston community, with groups including healthcare providers, teachers, nonprofits such as Recovery Point and United Way, and addicts themselves. The partners have also met with over 40 stakeholders across the city.
Ariela Alpert, director of strategic management for the city, is running the CARE office. She and Dr. Susan Gardner Bissett, president of the WVDII, said they are still compiling the data from the sessions.
“What we can tell so far is it affects every aspect of people’s lives,” Alpert said. “We need to continue aggregate data so we can understand exactly what is going and that will help [determine] how we’re going to respond.”
Goals of the partnership include fewer overdoses and overdose deaths, fewer people in active addiction, and prevention of initial drug use.
The two groups also want to expand and evaluate the Quick Response Team, which includes one Charleston police officer, one paramedic and one representative from a mental health provider who follows up with people who had an overdose about seeking treatment.
“We have some understanding of how many people we are getting into treatment and how many people we are seeing, but if we dig down into that data we can see how we can improve the program,” Alpert said.
The partnership between the two groups began to form in April, Goodwin said. Bissett and former UC president Edwin Welch, chairman of the WVDII Board of Directors, had been in contact with Goodwin throughout her campaign last year. Goodwin said she’s seen cities and universities partner in multiple cities to create similar programs.
Welch said the partnership is important because it will make sure there are no “duplicated” efforts. He said Huntington has a “roadmap” of what each organization and nonprofit does to address the drug crisis and added that Charleston needs something similar.
“We’re trying to learn from what happened in Huntington,” Welch said. “The university and the city got together and said ‘we need to be much better at comparing who’s doing what.’ Why have three different entities doing the same thing?”
Goodwin said drug addiction is what constituents talked about most on the campaign trail.
“In every neighborhood we went, every street and every road and every type of family there was one consistent theme: They said ‘help us. Help our families with this opioid crisis. Help our families with drug addiction,’” Goodwin said.
However, funding for the CARE office almost didn’t make it into this year’s fiscal budget. Initially, Goodwin cut it, along with 21 positions. But at the last minute, she decided to add it back in.
For Goodwin, the drug crisis is also personal. Years ago her cousin died because of substance abuse related reasons. She described him as “a bright young engineering student.”
“Many know here today, my family has also been a statistic in this fight,” Goodwin said, adding that she knows many people have been in similar circumstances. “That’s why everyone is standing here with such passion.”