Lesson Learned Column "opioid epidemic"

“The opioid epidemic in West Virginia may be the worst crisis impacting our students in the state’s history,” proclaims an initiative created by the West Virginia Department of Education in June 2019. The program guide titled “RECLAIM WV” is a welcome endeavor as is the visit to West Virginia by First Lady Melania Trump on July 9, 2019. She joined several other health and policy leaders from West Virginia and Washington D.C. to participate in a round table discussion at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department on the opioid crisis affecting the state and the entire nation.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice attended, remarking, “I’ve said over and over that we have to do everything under the sun to end the drug crisis once and for all.” Governor Justice observed, “The entire Trump family and the First Lady truly get it. They understand how solving this crisis is the most important thing we can do to help the people of our great state, and I’m honored to see how committed First Lady Trump is to working alongside my administration in our fight to help West Virginians break the cycle of addiction and get back on their feet.”

At the round table event, representatives for the RECLAIM WV Program explained a way for West Virginia to connect social-emotional and mental health supports to fight the opioid epidemic. Steven L. Paine, Ed.D., State Superintendent of Schools, wisely has a bottom line on the back page of the PR program: “In December 2018 the WVDE submitted a new five-year Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), WV Project AWARE (Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education), grant for $9 million. As of April 20, 2019, grant award notification is still pending.”

Nine action steps are highlighted in the body of the program. The action step that most attracts my attention is “Supporting Youth-to-Youth Peer Networking.” Dr. Paine and his team are right to support youth-to-youth peer networking. Probably an adolescent can reach another adolescent better than anybody else.

Consider how team sports are organized. There is a key position for a trainer. In fact, contact sports cannot be safely played without a trainer. What I envision for our Fred Eberle Technical Center is the creation of an entry-level professional drug counseling position. A trainer position. The student would have Red Cross First Aid training including CPR. They would have pharmacotherapy working knowledge for drugs of abuse. In addition, they would be versed in the 12-Step approach to drug therapy as practiced by Narcotics Anonymous. This course could lead to a certification modeled after Certified Nursing Assistants. The successful student could be employed by a rehab program. Later they might pursue a career path leading to becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor. I am hopeful that one day a program like this will come to fruition at our Technical Center.

This opioid crisis is a life-and-death struggle that our students are fighting, with 57.8 people per 100,000 dying from drug-related overdose deaths in West Virginia in 2017, the highest rate in the United States. Indeed, hands down, the Opioid Epidemic in West Virginia is the worst crisis impacting our students in the state’s history! We are losing two generations of citizens, so a rigorous action plan is required. Now is the time for our round table discussions to be action oriented.


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