Substance abuse prevention moving in right direction

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

At a Prevention Summit held Friday at the Inn at Mountain Quest, individuals and organizations gathered to discuss the success of drug prevention efforts in Pocahontas County.

Pocahontas County Prevention Coalition Supervisor Cheryl Jonese shared information on programs that have been provided in Pocahontas County since 2006, when the coalition began its efforts.

“We’ve developed a really strong community coalition,” she said. “We are here to share our successes and invite you to be part of our community coalition.”

The main programs utilized in the county include the Warriors Above the Influence poster, which features 12 to 15 Pocahontas County High School students who are selected to represent the substance-free students in the county; Students Against Destructive Decisions [SADD] clubs at PCHS and the middle schools; as well as elementary school level Don’t Mess with Meds and Keep a Clear Mind.

Community Connections executive director Travis Helmondollar gave a presentation which reflects the efforts of the Prevention Coalition. He said the state of West Virginia, as a whole, is seeing a decrease in the number of substance abusers.

In the research Helmondollar provided, it is apparent that there is a large mental health component that leads to or is worsened by substance abuse.

“Mental health has to be a key concern in going forward and the federal government is also seeing that,” he said. “Moving forward in the beginning of the federal year in October 1, all substance abuse activities and prevention will also include a mental health component, so paralleling those two activities and two situations that we deal with is critical and I think you’ll see more of that coming down the line.”

While West Virginia does fall into the same pattern as the national average, there are several instances where West Virginia’s statistics are staggeringly high and out of the ordinary.

“Among persons in West Virginia enrolled in substance use treatment, in a single-day count in 2012, sixty-five point three percent were in treatment for a drug problem only, eleven percent were in treatment for an alcohol problem only and twenty three point eight percent were in treatment for both drugs and alcohol,” Helmondollar said. “That number is significantly higher than the national average when you have both a drug problem and an alcohol problem.

“Nationwide, you see one or the other, typically,” he continued. “People become desperate. They find what they can as far as drugs and then they intensify the situation they are dealing with, and they can feel, with the drugs by adding alcohol to the mix.”

The same single-day count revealed that 4,500 people were receiving methadone as part of their substance abuse treatment and 984 were receiving buprenorphine, which is used to treat an opioid addiction.

“These numbers are astronomical when you think that these are not just numbers, these are individuals,” Helmondollar said. “These are people who are meant to be people who can provide something to our communities – to be active members of our communities.”

While there are West Virginians taking the leap of faith and seeking help for their addiction, many suffer a worse fate.

“Drug overdoses now kill more West Virginians each year than car accidents,” Helmondollar revealed. “It’s the lead cause of accidental deaths in the state. West Virginia is the only state in the nation that can say that. In every other state, the leading cause of accidental death is car accidents.”

West Virginia’s rate of drug overdose deaths is 31.4 per 100,000 people, whereas the national rate is 14.7 per 100,000 people. Helmondollar said the highest rate of overdose deaths are in 30-50 year old males. He said the reason for that is that most prevention programs are geared toward teens and young adults in their twenties, and the elderly.

While the state has an issue with alcohol and drug abuse, including narcotics, synthetic drugs, cocaine, heroin and prescription drugs, there is a way out. There is a silver lining in the prevention programs that are offered to those in need.

“We know that there are problems going on,” he said. “We know that even though no matter how high or low your numbers are, these are people and these are situations that we have to deal with. We have concern, but we also have to look at the hope of having prevention programs and working with a county coalition like this.”

It is important to keep a balance of concern and hope Helmondollar said. ‘When dealing with addiction, it is important to remember there is such a thing as a happy ending.

“The state DHHR [Department of Health and Human Resources] and Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities is putting a huge amount of time and effort into making sure that you – coalition members, community members, community activists – know that, yes, we have a problem. Yes, some trends are going up, Yes, there are going to continue to be problems that we’re going to face for years and years to come, but great things are happening.”

Comparing the past to the present, the trends are, for the most part, moving in the right direction and Helmondollar considers the prevention efforts of Pocahontas County as a part of the success story.

“In general, all trends are going down,” he said. “If you look at everything as a whole, you are doing positive work. You are working to make some progress. Communities are seeing some successes, and if you look at the full picture, it’s because of people like you who work every single day in the field – law enforcement, in the school system, community work. It’s because of you that people are understanding that they don’t have to use those drugs, and there are positive ways to get around it, and they’re seeking help when they need to.”

Delegates Bill Hartman and Denise Campbell, and Peggy Hawes, of Senator Joe Manchin’s office, also spoke about their efforts to assist the Prevention Coalition and to continue promotion of living a substance free life.

Pocahontas County Sheriff David Jonese and Chief Deputy David Walton both said they have seen problems with drugs in the past few years, but they have also seen a decrease in drug related arrests and less drug traffic coming into the county.

At the end of the program, Cheryl Jonese recognized three members of the Green Bank Elementary-Middle School RAZE program which is focused on preventing the use of tobacco. They were Kaylee Halterman, Garrett Coleman and Payton Coleman, who were in attendance at the summit.

Cheryl Jonese also presented framed copies of the Warriors Above the Influence poster to Denise Campbell, Peggy Hawse, Pocahontas County High School principal Michael Adkins and Prosecuting Attorney Gene Simmons.

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