Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

October 2, 2012

Fighting drugs on four fronts

WELCH — When it comes to tackling the rampant scourge of prescription drug abuse, officials in McDowell County are advocating a four-step approach.

The strategy includes a new Suboxone drug-treatment clinic being developed in conjunction with Southern Highlands, a separate state-funded drug-treatment facility for women, a proposed referral and drug-screening intervention program at Welch Community Hospital and a possible detox center if the county is selected as the site for the new state-funded center.

“It’s a four-prong approach to try to get this whole thing under control,” County Manager Clif Moore said Monday. “Southern West Virginia has gone through economic downturns. We’ve bounced back. We’ve gone through flooding, and we’ve bounced back. We’ve gone through out migration, and we’ve bounced back. Hopefully, with all four of these working together, it will help us bounce back. We can’t let it get us down.”

The region’s prescription drug abuse problem has taken a particularly troubling toll on McDowell County in recent months. The county’s Big Creek District alone has recorded more than 100 overdose deaths in the past five years. The problem has captured both national and international headlines, including a recent Australian Broadcasting Corporation report and a story in Playboy magazine.

Moore, also a member of the House of Delegates serving Delegate District 26, said the new Suboxone drug-treatment center is still on target to open this year. It will operate out of the existing Southern Highlands facilities in Welch.

“We are currently working with WVU, and they have submitted a funding grant to provide some doctors, and to purchase some updated equipment,” Moore said. “We are going to do a lot of telemedicine clinics. At this point, we have not heard back from them. WVU will be the provider of the doctors. Southern Highlands will operate (the clinic) in the existing facility they have now.”

Moore said a second drug-treatment facility just for women also should be operational by the year’s end. It is being funded through a special legislative appropriation authorized by lawmakers a year ago. Moore said the facility will be constructed by a private developer. However, officials are still working to finalize the property deed and lease for the project.

Moore said the county is also working on a new Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment program in cooperation with Welch Community Hospital, the new teen drug court program, and the county’s alternative sentencing program.

“These people will be at the hospitals in the evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. or 7 to 10 p.m. on weekends, holidays and first of the month,” Moore said. “Let’s say you’ve been riding a four-wheeler, and you have an accident. And they bring you to the hospital and through the examination and questioning you go though, they find out you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. So if those type of incidents are detected, they could do an immediate intervention. We can refer them right on the spot to the brief intervention and referral program.”

Finally, Moore said county officials are working with the state in hopes of securing a regional detox center.

Earlier this year, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse and six regional task forces recommended funding local, regional and state-wide service programs as part of a comprehensive plan to address drug abuse in West Virginia.

A detoxification and stabilization unit was recommended for region six, which includes McDowell, Mercer and Raleigh counties. McDowell County is on the short list of proposed locations for the detoxification and stabilization unit, according to the office of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Moore said the county is working with the governor’s office, and the Department of Health and Human Resources, in hopes of developing a local detox center.

Moore said officials hope that several — if not all four — of the projects will be operational by year’s end.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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