Andrew Robinson: Addiction fight far from over (Opinion)

Does the drug epidemic seem to be over in your neighborhood?

Gov. Jim Justice, Attorney General Patrick Morrissey and Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bill Crouch have recently touted data claiming we have turned the tide on the drug epidemic. Statements have cited a decrease in drug deaths, lower prescription rates and the millions of dollars dedicated to fight addiction.

Unfortunately, single data points, statements from politicians and even large settlement checks don’t equal a victory or even a “turning of the tide” of the drug epidemic that is devastating our state.

We should all be leery of statements claiming we are winning this war on drugs. Don’t be surprised when politicians who are touting the decrease of opioid prescriptions ignore the fact that there is a related increase in the next drug. Don’t fall for the magician’s sleight-of-hand trick. Whether it be opioids, heroin, methamphetamine or alcohol, addiction does not just go away simply because we decreased the relevance of one substance or one version of a substance (OxyContin vs. heroin).

It was recently announced that West Virginia, for the second year, will receive $28 million from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. Unfortunately, the bulk of these funds is tied up by federal government regulations and tied to the pharmaceutical industry’s new cash cow, medication-assisted treatment.

Medication-assisted treatment is the pharmaceutical industry’s answer to the problem, a problem that those same drug companies have, in large part, caused. The DHHR secretary often refers to medication-assisted treatment as the “gold standard” for addiction recovery treatment, but is a pharmaceutical solution to a pharmaceutical problem really the answer?

A friend in long-term recovery recently passed on a saying related to this phenomenon: “Oh, you have a pill to cure addiction? I wonder what two will do?”

My feelings regarding medication-assisted treatment cannot be simplified into blanket statements. West Virginia needs wide-ranging and ample opportunities for treatment. However, often as I am sitting in the Legislature listening to our DHHR secretary, it seems we may be focusing on only one option, medication-assisted treatment. This focus is usually at the expense of and to the detriment of successful abstinence-based programs.

I am given great ideas from conversations I have every day with individuals in recovery, family members of people who are affected by addiction, individuals who work in addiction treatment and colleagues in the Legislature. These ideas are how we should build our approach to recovery in West Virginia.

First, listen to mental health professionals. Let those on the front lines describe successes and failures and tell us what works. Visit our local and successful abstinence-based treatment centers, such as Rea of Hope and Recovery Point West Virginia. Understand that the path to recovery is different for everyone and support all of those paths to recovery. Listen to recovering addicts who have taken the steps to successfully escape active addiction. Finally, use real data to develop the state’s approach to recovery, to be sure our investments are logical and effective.

Don’t believe the hype, there is no gold standard for drug addiction recovery. West Virginia should focus on being prepared for every addict willing to ask for help and refrain from filling the pharmaceutical industry’s pockets trying to solve a problem they dumped on our community.

Andrew Robinson, of Charleston, is a Democrat representing the 36th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Funerals for Monday, November 18, 2019

Blackwell, Emily - 5 p.m., Coonskin Clubhouse, Charleston.

Buhl, Dolores - Noon, Our Lady of the Hills Catholic Church, Pinch.

Carr, Charles - Noon, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, St. Albans.

Cobb, James - 1 p.m., Siniaville Cemetery, Statts Mills.

Duncan, Maxine - 1 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Evans, Anita - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.

Hedrick Sr., Judson - Noon, Stevens & Grass Funeral Home, Malden.

Honeycutt, Amanda - 2 p.m., Osborne Cemetery, Craddock Fork, Lake.

Jarrell, Michael - 1 p.m., Greene - Robertson Funeral Home, Sutton.

Karnes, Shirley - 2 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Stone, Penny - 2 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Wilmoth, Patricia - 7 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.