Group takes fight to the streets

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BUCKHANNON — Wayne Worth was tired of watching everyone complain on Facebook about the drug addiction epidemic wreaking havoc on the Mountain State.

As a Harrison County resident and social worker, he was also sick of picking up the local paper or watching the news and learning about one more opioid overdose death. He wanted less talk, and more action, which is exactly why he founded Neighbors in Action West Virginia, a door-to-door campaign focused on empowering West Virginians by providing them with the information they need to get help – or help someone else get help – with a substance abuse issue.

The campaign kicked off in December 2016 in Harrison County and by Saturday, it had made its way to Jawbone Park in Buckhannon, where about 15-20 volunteers had gathered on a sunny day as part of Worth’s latest efforts to take the campaign to all 55 counties in the state.

The walk ­— during which the group went door-to-door with information about how and where to obtain help with addiction — was successful in Buckhannon, with volunteers distributing about
300 fliers throughout town.

“It was quite a good response,” Worth said Thursday, reflecting on Saturday’s walk. “The really cool thing about it is, even after the walk, Matthew Kerner with the Opportunity House is planning to continue these walks on a monthly basis. We kind of planted a seed, and then people pick it up and take it from there.

“Most people really tune into it and appreciate it,” Worth continued. “A lot of folks don’t know how to help their loved ones or a friend struggling with addiction. If someone they loved came to them and said they were ready for help, they wouldn’t know the first thing to do. Going door to door is appreciated, because you can get on Facebook and see a lot of people complaining about [the drug epidemic], but you don’t really see many people doing anything about it.” 

West Virginians can wait for large grant funding aimed at tackling the problem to trickle down to the masses, but that’s not a very effective solution either, Worth said.

“We’ve seen how this grassroots stuff gets people motivated to do on-the-ground stuff rather than listening to empty promises or waiting for big funding to come down to solve these problems,” Worth said. “The people and the connections they form play a role in this. Healing is more successful in a community than in isolation.”

Neighbors in Action West Virginia works by attacking the demand-side of the drug business, Worth said. If there is less of a demand as former addicts recover, drug suppliers likely won’t stick around.

“[Selling] drugs is a business, and we’re on the demand-side of things,” Worth said. “We aren’t the police so we don’t go around busting the suppliers and putting them in jail. What we do is provide resources for people if they want to quit that lifestyle. For every one person that takes advantage of the information and decides to quit [using], that’s one less customer for drug dealers, and if we can lessen the demand for drugs, then the suppliers will move elsewhere, the dealers will move elsewhere.”

Oftentimes, recovering addicts are motivated to join the movement by their own experiences with addiction and recovery. One such person is Jay Kirkman, who participated in the Buckhannon Neighbors in Action Walk Saturday.

“I’m a recovering addict. I have almost 10 years clean and sober, and I’ve been out with Wayne with Neighbors in Action since October when he called me and told me we were going to take this statewide,” Kirkman said. “I said, ‘I know the first county to hit. Let’s go to Buckhannon.’”

Kirkman lived at the Opportunity House while in recovery in 2013, he said, and his time there fostered a love of Buckhannon within him.

“I’m very familiar with this town; I love this town,” Kirkman said. “This is smalltown America.”

Local resident Johnnaston Kimble, who plans to take the 55-county tour with Worth, said most people whose doors the group knocked on were receptive and grateful for the information.

“Everyone seemed pretty excited about it,” Kimble said. “It’s good that the information is getting out to people.”

The next Neighbors in Action West Virginia walk is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 24 at the Jack Roberts Park in Morgantown. Find the group on Facebook.

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