CHARLESTON — Transportation challenges dominated conversation during Tuesday’s public forum on the West Virginia substance use response plan, with some participants calling it “the biggest barrier” in connecting people to drug treatment programs.
Services often are unreliable or unavailable in certain areas, many of them rural, participants said. Delays can stretch for hours, sometimes days. For people waiting to get into treatment, that can mean a missed opportunity for entry.
“We need transportation on demand for this clientele. When they’re ready to go to treatment, we have got to have transportation ready,” said Christena Ross, a West Virginia University Health Sciences Center program director who facilitated one of the groups during the forum.
More than 130 representatives from health organizations, recovery and treatment centers, universities, advocacy groups, day-report centers and others, participated in the virtual session, which focused on the community engagement and support section of the state substance use response plan.
It was the second in a series of public forums scheduled through the next month.
Participants split into 15 groups, each led by an expert facilitator who posed questions on subsections, including housing, transportation and employment. At the end, the groups reconvened, each sharing three key points from their discussions.
Each cited transportation. Some groups called for more options. Others called for a comprehensive list of available transportation services.
Transportation has been a historic challenge in expanding access to care, said Brian Gallagher, chairman of the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment and associate professor at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
Geography complicates the picture, he said. Parts of West Virginia are hours from the closest service agency. There aren’t enough people to help with rideshares, and people can be spread across large areas.
“How do we make it so something works in all 55 counties? We don’t have the resources in all 55 counties to [provide transportation], but we know we do have people in recovery in all 55,” Gallagher said. “So, how do we get people in recovery to help us with transportation?”
Initiatives have been slow to gain traction, Gallagher said. Paying for mileage or waiving court fees and other fines could help, said Deb Harris, a lead transition agent with Jobs and Hope West Virginia.
Ensuring that employment training programs connect people with employers who are interested in aiding those in recovery could help, said Jennie Hill, assistant director at the West Virginia Alliance of Recovery Residences.
Participants said people sometimes have landed jobs only to get fired for having weekly appointments for drug screenings or counseling sessions. Jobs for people in recovery frequently focus on manual labor. Adding college and technical training programs and expanding options to work from home could help.
So, too, could adding treatment beds in rural areas.
Participants also suggested initiatives to educate landlords, employers and communities on substance use disorder and recovery.
Stigma “is an overarching theme we cover, and we want all interactions [as part of this plan] to occur with the understanding that addiction is a long-term, chronic disease that people will struggle with in some way for the rest of their life,” said Dr. Matthew Christiansen, head of the state Office of Drug Control Policy.
To provide feedback on the community engagement section of the plan, visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/ODCP2022.