As of June 5, the Wheeling Police Department has logged 58 deaths in 2018 caused by drug overdoses, and 20 of these cases occurred in May alone. According to the WV Health Statistics Center, 1,008 people died of drug overdoses in 2017, which is a 13 percent increase from the 890 fatal overdoses in 2016. Thus far 498 overdose deaths have occurred in West Virginia between January and June of 2018, which could represent a continued increase in WV overdose mortality rates.
In contrast to these ominous numbers, West Virginia Council of Churches asks us to be hopeful and to find ways to celebrate drug abuse prevention and recovery. September 14-16, 2018 collectively is declared a West Virginia Day of Hope: Encouraging Prevention and Recovery. So while the deaths from drug overdoses in Wheeling, Huntington, Charleston, and across West Virginia continue to rise, you may wonder: how can we be hopeful?
We have been dealing with a drug crisis for over a decade, and in fact its roots go can be traced back to the 1960’s. As a mother who lost her 23-year-old son in 2007 due to a drug overdose I say we must be hopeful, but we must also be more vigilant than we have been thus far.
We must be hopeful because we understand so much more about how addiction affects the brain and addiction is a treatable disorder. (See Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addictionfor a clear explanation of medical treatment and recovery methods.)
We must be hopeful because across the state of West Virginia we have more treatment facilities and options and funding for treatment than was available a decade ago. Below is a short list of treatment and recovery services available in West Virginia:
- Medicaid expands coverage for substance abuse treatment: com
- HER Place: https://www.recoverypointwv.org
- Recovery and treatment programs are available on college campuses such as this service at WVU: https://recovery.wvu.edu/treatment-recovery
- HELP4WV provides a 24-hour helpline for West Virginians who need help with addiction or mental illness: https://www.help4wv.com
- Intensive Outpatient Program Treatment Centers in West Virginia: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/treatment-rehab/intensive-outpatient-program/west-virginia
But if we are encouraged as we approach the Day of Hope, we must also be vigilant. Vigilant to combat our personal stigmas: drug addiction isn’t a symptom of weakness or wickedness. Substance use disorders are treatable, but like other chronic diseases such as heart disease or asthma, treatment for drug addiction usually isn’t a cure. Relapse rates for drug use are similar to rates for other chronic medical illnesses.
We must be vigilant in seeking the latest knowledge about drug addiction treatment and prevention. As the National Institute on Drug Addiction explains, “Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply rooted behaviors, and relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed.” A relapse indicates a need to contact one’s physician to resume treatment, modify it, or try an alternative treatment.
As we celebrate the 2018 Day of Hope, let us look closely into our communities to see how we can help those who are struggling, encourage those who are recovering, and celebrate this opportunity for community collaboration, perseverance, and love.
Find out what West Virginia Day of Hope activities are scheduled in your community at this website: https://wvcc.org/day-of-hope/