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Officials discuss state drug crisis

Feb. 27, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- Local and federal authorities gathered on Wednesday to discuss solutions to an old problem that's recently resurfaced -- heroin addiction.

A panel consisting of law enforcement officials, doctors, lawmakers and those who specialize in rehabilitation met at the Robert C. Byrd Federal Courthouse in Charleston for a roundtable focused on alleviating the growing drug abuse problem.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin compared the heroin epidemic with the prescription drug crisis. He said the problem with heroin is that the purity of the drug can fluctuate and lead to serious issues for the abuser, including overdosing and death.

Heroin seizures are up, according to law enforcement in Charleston and Huntington, but as Huntington police chief Skip Holbrook said, "We know we can't arrest our way out of this problem."

Huntington police seized more than 5,500 grams of heroin in 2013, "an incredible increase for a community of our size," he said, adding that the department has seen a "tremendous" surge in heroin seizures in the last 18 months.

Matt Boggs, project director of the Healing Place in Huntington, spoke about peer counseling in overcoming opioid addiction. The Healing Place serves men trying to overcome addiction without medication.

Boggs, a graduate of the program, said peer counseling works because it breaks down barriers and gives the addict someone to relate to.

The program, which has seen 300 men since it opened in 2011, has 65 graduates, 65 percent of which have remained sober.

The other approach is to treat the addiction with medication like methadone or Suboxone.

Dr. Carl "Rolly" Sullivan, vice-chairman and director of Addictions Programs at West Virginia University's School of Medicine, said methadone came along first, which helped patients short term, but he said Suboxone, a partial opioid, was a "game changer."

"When used correctly it works really well," Sullivan said. "When used correctly it really can be helpful, but when used incorrectly it becomes just another drug on the street."

Kathy Paxton, director of the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse at the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities said there is no shortage of treatment options in the state, but she said that those who need it didn't know how to access it. Those seeking help with their addictions can go to the agency's website at www.bhhf.wv.gov.

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