Ensuring Those Addicted to Drugs Get Treatment

No state should we be more aware of substance use disorder than West Virginia. The Mountain State continues to lead the nation in the overdose death rate and the statistics are overwhelming.

At last count, 1,014 West Virginia residents lost their lives due to overdoses in 2017. A tragic number that climbed from 2016, when 890 people died. So far this year, we have had approximately 100 overdoses in Wheeling, resulting in about 11 deaths, according to the Wheeling Police Department. That is an increase from the six deaths that occurred in the city in 2017. We need to get that number moving in the other direction.

Even though we have been overwhelmed with these ominous numbers for some time now, we cannot ignore information about this issue. We cannot become desensitized to the problem and the possibility of solutions.

Recent news coverage has reported some localized improvement but preliminary numbers show that there were 498 overdose deaths during the first six months of 2018. That is 19 more than what occurred during the same time period in 2017.

These numbers are not sustainable. At this point, just about every West Virginian has someone in their lives who has been touched by the scourge of addiction. We are in crisis mode and we need to get the numbers moving in the other direction.

We must remain educated about the problem, because if we ignore it, then people who need help are going to stay in the dark. A recent report by West Virginia Public Broadcasting states that journalists can help address the opioid crisis in the country, especially in West Virginia. In fact, West Virginia Public Broadcasting is striving to keep the public informed on issues surrounding the opioid crisis as well as treatment options that can get every willing individual on the road to recovery and healing.

These reports are very important because addiction is our number one enemy, and in order to defeat your enemy, you must know your enemy. That is where organizations like WVPB come into play. They can help educate us by showing us where the problems lie. They can also keep us informed about whether we are moving in the right direction or if we need to make changes to policy addressing addiction.

Can the media show us a positive side? Absolutely. If you watch or listen to our statewide public broadcasting organization, you’ll see the people there are tuned in to the idea that recovery is possible and help is available. Anyone struggling from addiction can obtain that help by calling 1-844-HELP4WV. They can also go online at Help4WV.com. Videos produced by WVPB are telling the stories of hope and perseverance in West Virginia’s fight against addiction. They inspire me and I think they may show those we know fighting their darkest battle that they can beat it. They can triumph. Check out the videos on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Facebook page.

Efforts like these let folks know that treatment options are available and that people can find them. Addiction is a sickness, just like cancer or heart disease. And a disease has to be treated or it gets worse.

However, a large portion of those who need treatment do not receive it. A recent study by the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare states that of the approximately 20 million individuals in the United States who suffered from substance abuse disorder in 2016, 89 percent did not receive any form of treatment.

This is called a treatment gap, and we must work to close it. We cannot expect those who suffer from substance use disorder to recover on their own. They need help, and if we as a nation want to reduce the number of drug overdoses, we have to make sure they get this help.

When asked why they did not attempt to obtain treatment, 29 percent of the people interviewed said they were concerned that others would find out about their substance use problem. Therefore, we must also work to remove the stigma associated with substance abuse disorder by showing people that it is not a moral failing but a disease of the brain.

Education about the issue and treatment of the problem are two pieces in the puzzle. We need to fit those pieces together to help form a healthier, happier West Virginia. It’s going to take us all to make it happen.

Mary Hess is the executive director of Ohio Valley Recovery Inc.’s Unity Center for two years. The Unity Center is a peer addiction recovery center. Ms. Hess lives with substance use disorder and has been in recovery for 15 years. She is the proud mother of three. She received a bachelor’s degree in business operations management from DeVry University.

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