Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

February 28, 2014

Substance abuse: Pilot initiative will help Mercer

— — When it comes to fighting the war on drugs, community-based substance abuse treatment programs should be a tool that is readily available for the judicial system.

That’s why we welcome the recent announcement of a new pilot program that will offer community-based substance abuse treatment to people on probation, parole and supervised release in nine southern West Virginia counties, including Mercer.

Phase 1 of the pilot program seeks to engage behavioral health treatment providers in the nine counties, who in return will be encouraged to expand their effective substance abuse treatment services to offenders in the individual communities.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, is calling the pilot program a “major step” in the right direction. He correctly notes that the pilot program will provide the courts and judges with additional options when it comes to treating those individuals who are fighting drug addiction.

The goal of the program is to extend the community-based approach statewide over time. The pilot initiative recommends increasing rehabilitation services for offenders who show a high risk for re-offending and a need for substance abuse treatment, including those with co-occurring disorders.

“This will be a coordinated effort between the court system and other programs that work with substance abuse,” Shott told the Daily Telegraph earlier this month.

Local agencies that are expected to assist with the pilot program include Southern Highlands. The pilot initiative extends from the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2013, according to Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Joseph Thornton.

Thornton says the program also will help to address prison growth and overcrowding in the Mountain State.

“The programs offered in prisons are effective, but the lack of community-based services for offenders represents a significant gap,” Thornton said. “The establishment of community-based treatment opportunities promises to close that gap and offers offenders a better chance at being successful, law-abiding and productive members of society.”

The ultimate goal of such community-based services is to reduce rates of recidivism among the offender population. And given the rampant abuse of prescription drugs in our region, all efforts must be made to curb this epidemic. That is why we are hopeful that the new pilot initiative can make an important difference in Mercer County.

Of course, those offenders who qualify for such community-based substance abuse initiatives must be willing participants who have a strong desire and will to turn their lives around. At the end of the day, these offenders must be willing to get clean — and stay clean. If not, they should be incarcerated for the remainder of their original sentences.

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