Experiences Dealing With Addiction Shared at Wheeling Jesuit Forum

WHEELING – While those dealing with addiction need treatment and continued care, they most importantly need support from their friends and family.

The social and psychological impact of opioid addiction was discussed Tuesday during a community discussion at Wheeling Jesuit University, where experts in the field of addiction spoke and shared experiences.

Ryan Wakim and Jeffrey Richmond, both psychiatrists with the Recovery-based Outpatient Opioid Treatment Services of Wheeling, urged the need for continuing care and support for people struggling with addiction both medically and socially.

“It’s a very poorly understood illness, and that’s a big part of the reason we’ve come out tonight,” Richmond said.

“It’s important to point out that this is not an Ohio Valley problem. This is a pandemic across the country,” Wakim added.

Wakim said that, working with ROOTS, a common stigma is associating addiction with a certain sort of person, while in reality, people from all walks of life struggle with it.

“We work in Wheeling, and we see problems every day. It affects everyone, either personally, directly or indirectly,” he said. “When you think of someone dependent on medication, you think of the drifter or the homeless person. But frankly, it’s your co-worker. It’s your boss. It’s even your physician.”

Wakim attributes the area’s lingering problem with opioid addiction to outdated medical practices of treating pain, which led to overprescription of drugs such as oxycontin and oxycodone.

“For the longest time in medicine, it was taught that you couldn’t just not treat pain. If someone comes in, you need to give them something for pain,” he said. “In those days, West Virginians were seen as salt-of-the-earth people, these coal miners and hard workers. Physicians wanted to keep them in the workforce, and the way you did that was by treating their pain.”

As time went on, he said, these workers and family members shifted to other, cheaper sources, such as heroin.

Statistically, Wakim said, 10 percent of Americans over 12 live with addiction, and of that number, 10 percent are being treated.

Dick Coburn, a recovering alcoholic who is 26-years sober, explained the need for a strong support system among those being treated, as well as willpower on the part of the addicted.

“One thing all addicts have is being stubborn. If you can point that in the right direction, then being open and following directions is the rest of the way,” Coburn said. “If you don’t reform your life around your recovery, it isn’t likely to matter.”

Willpower is also a critical aspect of the support network, who may face failure after failure while trying to rehabilitate a struggling addict.

“Just in terms of treating the addicted population, there’s a lot of failure there. You have to really be willing to get down to the level of the person you’re working with, and relapse is common,” Wakim said. “Statistically, there are seven failures or relapse before one finally sticks. If you’re willing to get one-on-one with a person, the toughest hurdle is handling the failure.”