Lesson Learned "Huntington"

Huntington, West Virginia, hit bottom in despair and desperation dealing with the ongoing Opioid Epidemic when 20 citizens required First Responder attention on the same day. That was only two years ago but clearly in the rear-view mirror, as part of their team described the process of winning back their city from the drug crisis in a detailed presentation on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College on December 12, 2019.

“The City of Solutions” program describing Huntington’s efforts offered insight for Buckhannon citizens gathered and alarmed by our loss of control. I came to learn lessons as drugs continue to be the root of many of our safety and behavioral problems in the Upshur County Schools. First, lesson learned is that there is not just one way to deal with the death spiral gripping our Appalachian region. Second, we are in a crisis mode with a call for all hands on deck!

As an elected member of the Upshur County Board of Education, I needed the detailed presentation. It helped me to identify the school piece of a cultural sea change of overwhelming substance use permeating our community. I came seeking ways the BOE can collaborate:

Health Promotion and Prevention

* Healthy Communications

* Wellness

* Education

As a community physician also, I identified another professional piece in the collaboration:


* Medication Management

* Detox

* Stabilization

Besides these ingredients, there are other pieces of community impact. I see at least four other opportunities to be problem solvers working out solutions:

Early Intervention 

* Create Community-Based Problem-Solving Think Tank

* Outpatient Services

* Residential Services

My premise in writing this column is not to repeat the excellent four-hour analysis, but to identify what I consider the heart of the drug crisis. Thus, my lesson learned focuses on a collapse of what makes us unique, namely our Appalachian Values:

* Independence 

* Individualism

* Egalitarianism and Personalism 

* Familism

* A Religious Worldview

* Love of the Land and Place

* Avoidance of conflict.

To be true to the cultural essence seeking the healthiest solution, in Huntington the Faith Community has come forward to become part of the teams offering Spiritual Care as part of a comprehensive care program needed. While not the only keeper of values, the Faith Community does valuable service.

For example, Celebrate Recovery is a version of a Bible-focused 12-step recovery program that often involves families, in addition to the person struggling with substance use. Many local churches facilitate these groups, including sharing a meal before or afterwards.

My modest proposal going forward in Buckhannon and Upshur County is for the formation of a Quick Response Team (QRT). The team would include a First Responder, a Recovery Coach, and a Faith Community Member. This QRT would reach all persons who have overdosed within 24 to 72 hours in order to discuss treatment options. The goal is to reduce overdoses by 20%. The target group includes those who have repeatedly overdosed. This is the group that creates the compassion fatigue noted in Huntington’s First Responders. 

Initiating QRTs in Huntington resulted in a 40% decrease in overdoses and resulted in a 25% increase in overdosing persons seeking treatment. Lesson Learned—a good beginning.


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