Two events of the past week show that Huntington and West Virginia aim to win the war on opioid addiction and its side effects.
Thursday morning, Marshall University and state officials announced the formation of ReClaim West Virginia, a program designed to support schools, teachers, personnel, families and students who often reflect trauma through adverse or disruptive behaviors as a consequence of substance abuse.
“I found myself feeling as if I was failing my students,” Rachel Fisk, a third-grade teacher at Scott Teays Elementary School in Putnam County, said.
“No school, no community, no town is immune to this opioid crisis,” she added. “We’re all in it together, and knowing that we now have a game plan, so to speak, for the opioid epidemic and how it’s impacting our children, it makes you feel hopeful.”
Friday, several agencies in Huntington and Cabell County released what is called the “Cabell County Resiliency Plan” as a means of coordinating the delivery of services to people suffering from addiction and ensuring that resources are used most effectively toward that end.
The plan was coordinated by Dr. Stephen Petrany of the Division of Addiction Sciences at the Marshall medical school. Also involved were the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, the Cabell County Commission and other organizations.
It describes both short- and long-term plans for the county, centered on establishing an Addiction Science Institute to support and organize countywide efforts.
The plan’s primary representatives met with The Herald-Dispatch editorial board last week to discuss the plan’s goals.
Dr. Michael Kilkenny, medical director of the health department, said the community needs a plan for the next 40 to 60 years as it deals with problems that have arisen in the past 20 years.
One reason for the plan’s existence is to ensure that any money recovered in lawsuits filed by the city and the county against prescription drug distributors is spent on addiction prevention and recovery.
Dr. Kevin W. Yingling, a member of the Cabell-Huntington Board of Health, said, “This is the remedy for the grievance.”
As proposed in the Resiliency Plan, the Addiction Science Institute would be governed by a seven-member board. Five members would be appointed by the health department, the medical school, Marshall, the city and the county commission. The other two seats would be held by a community member and an individual in long-term recovery.
The Resiliency Plan will be submitted as part of the lawsuit against the drug distributors to show the court that settlement or verdict money would go toward helping those who have been harmed by the epidemic. It would prevent the funds from being taken to repair roads and other things not related to recovery, such as what happened with the 1998 tobacco settlement. In that case, $126 billion had been received by 2017, with less than 1% going toward anti-smoking programs. Most has gone to balance state budgets.
“That,” Petrany said, “would be a tragedy.”
From newborns to kindergarteners to adults, a wide range of area residents suffer from drug abuse. Of the communities in this region, Huntington is fortunate to have the infrastructure in place to contain the opioid epidemic and then eliminate it. We have the medical school and several programs with proven track records of helping people of all ages, including innocent victims, who have suffered harm from addiction.
These two efforts and others demonstrate that we’re not throwing up our hands and surrendering to a decline that would harm this area for generations.