Substantial steps taken to tackling addiction in 2018

December 23, 2018
Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch Jerome Adams, MD, U.S. Surgeon General speaks during 2018 Regional Health Summit on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at St. Mary's Conference Center in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — The opioid epidemic dominated many facets of public and private life in 2018 across the Tri-State, and will likely do so again in 2019.

But defined, recordable progress was made in keeping more people alive and placing more people than ever in recovery — aided by a continually developing stream of resources. The problem will exist into next year, but 2018 saw substantial steps forward in addressing widespread opioid addiction.

• Cabell County’s overdose totals declined roughly 40 percent through 2018 - the equivalent of around 750 fewer non-fatal overdoses in 2017, according to Cabell County EMS. The declining trend, which began in September 2017, may continue in 2019.

Cabell County is expected to record 1,113 overdoses in 2018. By comparison to past years, the county had a record 1,831 overdoses in 2017, 1,217 in 2016 and 480 in 2015.

Experts have not defined any one cause of the decline. Contributing factors commonly attributed to the decrease include the city’s major players — such as the city government, Marshall University, and the hospital system — working toward a common goal in reducing and reversing addiction, increased public availability of naloxone, and a general sense of awareness to the matter.

• Dozens of municipalities in West Virginia have joined more than 1,400 communities across the nation, in West Virginia, to file civil complaints alleging drug firms, manufacturers and distributors breached their duty to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates coming into counties and cities over the past several years — a duty the lawsuit claims companies had under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

The filings started in West Virginia after a 2016 Charleston Gazette-Mail investigation revealed similar data, stating between 2007 and 2012 that major distributors shipped 423 million pain pills to West Virginia, which has about 1.8 million citizens, before the number of pills started to decrease.

Similar lawsuits may soon likewise be filed on behalf of nearly 200 cases of children — most of whom are based in Southern West Virginia — who experienced drug withdrawal symptoms after birth, some of whom have been diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

A federal court ruled earlier in December that some lawsuits filed on behalf of children diagnosed with NAS should be overseen by the same judge as the 1,400 other cases, but Booth Goodwin, of representing firm Goodwin & Goodwin LLP, is fighting keep the NAS cases separate.

• Two new treatment facilities also opened in Huntington — PROACT, at 8th Avenue and 20th Street, and Project Hope, located on 7th Avenue adjacent to the Huntington City Mission.

PROACT, or Provider Response Organization for Addiction Care and Treatment, is intended to be a centralized hub for treatment, recovery, therapy, education, research, workforce opportunities and support for those affected by addiction. Partner institutions include Cabell Huntington Hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center, Marshall Health, Valley Health and Thomas Health.

Project Hope is a new 18-unit residential facility at a newly renovated 15,000-square-foot facility providing a secure, stable living environment for mothers and their children to stay together. The site also will provide on-site individual and group therapy and life skills practice. Project Hope is an initiative of Marshall Health.

• Changes have also been made and proposes for how public entities address those with addiction.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department, with input from the Huntington Police Department, instituted five major changes to its Harm Reduction Program, which provides clean syringes in exchange for used needles, among other things.

Participants are now initially given 40 syringes. The program leaders will check the sharps container when they are returned and the participants will receive the same amount in new syringes as those returned.

If no syringes are returned, the participant will not receive any new syringes. If the person loses their 40 needles, they could find needles off the street to return, Dial said.

In the second and third changes, to receive syringes participants must present an ID, which will also serve to prove they are a Cabell County resident. They could also be listed on the Huntington homeless coalition list. Anyone can still receive the other program services, however.

In the fourth change, family members are no longer allowed to pick up needles for others.

• Following the alleged overdose crash that occurred in July at Ritter Park in Huntington, West Virginia state senator Mike Woelfel (D-Cabell) drafted a bill to present to the West Virginia Legislature in January 2019 to create a “punishment that fits the crime.” The bill would make it a felony to participate in drug activity in the parks. Though the crash happened near a crowded playground area an endangered dozens of adults and children, the two people involved were charged with misdemeanors.

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.

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