POINT PLEASANT — “We need you all together to help us, to help others. We’re not bad people, we just make dumb decisions, that’s all.”
So said Matt Young, a recovering addict who addressed those gathered at Thursday night’s town hall meeting on opiate abuse led by Tim White from Prestera and sponsored by the Mason County Prevention Coalition and Loved Ones Support Group.
Conducted at Main Street Baptist Church, many from the recovery, law enforcement, faith and health care communities gathered, as did those from local government and residents who wanted to be more involved and informed about the epidemic.
The meeting consisted of a brief video presentation and a question-and-answer period with a panel made up of Sheriff Greg Powers, Prosecutor Craig Tatterson, Young, Mason County Health Department Administrator Diana Riddle, Mason County Day Report Director Steve Presley and a representative from Prestera Center in Point Pleasant.
Tatterson said he went back about a year-and-a-half through grand jury cases that his office presented. Of 83 cases, he said 22 percent were directly related to heroin, 26 percent were indirectly related, such as those attributed with getting money to purchase the drugs. In addition, of those 83 cases, Tatterson said 12 percent were related to methamphetamine or cocaine.
Powers agreed the drug epidemic is not something his or any department can arrest its way out of, and though he had no problem arresting drug dealers, ultimately, the goal is to get drug users treatment.
Powers said his department made 82 drug-related arrests last year, along with answering 6,500 911 calls and other responsibilities his department must carry out, with a relatively small staff. Powers said his deputies need the help of the community to help combat the drug problem.
“We can’t do this without the community,” Powers said, urging those with tips to call with information and those who need help, to call the appropriate agency or recovery organization before it’s too late for a loved one, with Tatterson reiterating that point.
Riddle said her department sees a lot of fallout from intravenous drug use, with testing for Hepatitis B and C and HIV. Riddle says Hep B and C are “rampant in West Virginia and Mason County.” Her department offers free and confidential testing for these conditions.
Speaking as both a health care provider and resident, Riddle said: “It amazes me to know that it’s so easy to get drugs (in Mason County).”
She said clients often tell her they can get drugs anywhere they want to find them in the county.
Presley, who not only works with day report but is also on the board of directors of The Meeting House, a centralized location for recovery services in Mason County, said the problem and solution relies on “community.”
“This is about relationships, about treating people how they deserve,” Presley said, adding if drug addiction was somehow magically wiped way, he believed there would still be some dysfunctional elements in the community which need healing. He stressed building strong moral values and character to combat what keeps people down.
Presley was optimistic about good things happening in the community, including programs like Drug Court, cooperation with law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, circuit and magistrate court, as well as programs like day report and non-profits like The Meeting House.
Young was recently named a community engagement specialist at The Meeting House. The position is funded through a state grant and will assist those in recovery with resources to achieve and maintain sobriety.
Young said if you’d told him four years ago he would be in this new position, he wouldn’t have believed it himself. He said he got sober at The Healing Place in Huntington which, at the time, had 30 beds and now has 103.
“It works,” Young said about recovery. “It takes us as a community.”
For help, call 1-844-HELP-4WV, or Mason County Day Report at 304-675-7001. Find Mason County Prevention Coalition and The Meeting House on Facebook for more information and public meeting times.
Listings of sobriety meetings appear inside each edition of the Point Pleasant Register in the community calendar.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.