Area Leaders Seek to End Drug Epidemic

WHEELING — Area civic and church groups, health care providers and law enforcement officials continue efforts to stem the epidemic of drug abuse and opioid overdoses in the Ohio Valley.

Although the region’s problems are less severe than the opioid crisis in other parts of West Virginia and Ohio, local leaders are not complacent about the impact of drug abuse in the region.

Law enforcement agencies and state and federal courts have stepped up efforts to halt the flow of drugs and to punish offenders. In 2017, community coalitions, medical facilities and educational institutions offered several seminars, programs and workshops dealing with prevention of illicit drug use and treatment for abusers.

The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department has expanded its efforts to train police and emergency personnel, community representatives and family members to administer naloxone, an opioid overdose-reversing drug. The department also has helped agencies to obtain a supply of naloxone, sold under the brand name of Narcan.

As members of the medical community cite a need for additional treatment options, grants have been awarded to establish two new facilities for women in the Northern Panhandle.

In early December, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources awarded a $3 million grant to a faith-based group that plans to transform the former Paul VI Pastoral Center near Wheeling into a long-term care center for approximately 100 women dealing with drug addiction. Sharon Travis, president of Heart2Heart/Living Free Ohio Valley Inc., said her group hopes to use the facility to expand its work to combat the opioid epidemic and other drug problems.

In addition, the West Virginia Governors’ Advisory Council on Substance Abuse has awarded funding to Miracles Blossom, a division of Healthways in Weirton, for a new facility at the former Holy Family Catholic Church site in Beech Bottom. The property was purchased in November.

Healthways CEO Terry Kiser said Miracles Blossom will be a 10-bed residential treatment facility for women dealing with substance abuse issues. The center is set to open in the spring of 2018. Healthways also operates Miracles Happen, a male treatment addiction facility in Wheeling.

In September, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Drug-Free Communities Support Program awarded $125,000 federal grants to the Community Impact Coalition of Wheeling and to Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention, the community coalition of Brooke and Hancock counties, to help prevent youth substance abuse.

Martha Polinsky, senior project coordinator for the Community Impact Coalition, said Impact received the grant for its ninth year of funding in the Drug Free Communities’ 10-year cycle through its managing agency, Youth Services System Inc. of Wheeling. She said, “The coalition has implemented hundreds of activities over the past eight years to reduce youth alcohol, marijuana and opiate use.”

Mary Ball, coordinator of Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention, said the coalition uses the funds to address underage drinking, prescription drug use and abuse, safe disposal of unused medications and marijuana awareness. ASAP received the grant for its eighth year of funding in the 10-year cycle through its fiscal agent, the Brooke Hancock Family Resource Network.

To promote community awareness and public involvement in solving the substance abuse crisis, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey organized a daylong conference, “Combating Addiction with Grace,” at Wheeling Jesuit University on Sept. 14. The event drew officials from service agencies and governmental entities, faith leaders and other area residents.

A West Virginia Opioid and Substance Abuse Seminar, coordinated by former U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II, was held on the Wheeling Jesuit campus May 31. The event drew about 50 people, including city leaders, lawmakers and representatives of social service agencies.

Wheeling Hospital sponsored a Dec. 4 workshop, “Operation Street Smart,” on topics related to illegal drug use and prevention efforts. Officials from the Special Investigations Unit of the Franklin County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office conducted the seminar. About 110 individuals representing heath care, law enforcement, business, social work, pre-hospital care, courts and schools attended the presentation.

Jim Collins, a gerontologist, consultant and author from Youngstown, presented a continuing education program on “Death by Heroin” at East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry Aug. 30. In attendance were nurses and officials from area hospitals and nursing homes.