Two weeks after President Obama’s visit to West Virginia, aimed at putting the spotlight on substance abuse issues across the country, the state’s leaders are still talking about ways to combat the issue.
At a forum in Martinsburg, Governor Tomblin met with those struggling with the disease and others trying to provide assistance in the Eastern Panhandle.
While treating addiction is still a major issue, law enforcement officials in the area still want the governor to know that drug trafficking is a major problem.
More than 150 people came out for Governor Tomblin’s Substance Abuse Summit at the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department. The event provided a comprehensive review of the state’s efforts to combat substance abuse problems.
Nearly twenty presenters shared information and stories about how they’re working to help addicts get and stay clean. Tomblin says the presentations alone prove the state is improving when it comes to access to treatment.
“We’ve come a long way in the last five years as you can see from the services listed on the charts today," Tomblin noted, "We've got the call line now, we’ve never had before, where people that’s wanting help, that’s needing help have a place to call where they can get professional help they need to get into programs.”
That call line is the state’s new 24 hour hotline for substance abuse help. Launched in September, Tomblin says so far more than 350 West Virginians have used it to find substance abuse treatment services.
And there are other initiatives to aid in the fight against substance abuse, too.
From expanding out-patient treatment options, to random drug testing in the workplace, to possible legislation - many accomplishments and new ideas were brought to the conversation.
But in the Eastern Panhandle, where the forum was held, there’s a lack of access to treatment facilities and other drug abuse services. It’s something Tomblin says is a challenge not just for West Virginia, but the entire country.
“I am frustrated, you know, we’ve got a great state, we’ve got great people, and to have this plague is something that we don’t need," Tomblin explained, "and of course it’s not only West Virginia, it’s across the country. I’ve talked with other governors; we’re all facing the same thing, and you know, we’ve all got to work together, we’ve got to get the services people need to get off drugs, we got to have programs to keep them from getting on drugs to start with.”
But in the eyes of law enforcement officials, drug trafficking is still the main issue in the Eastern Panhandle.
Because of the nearness to major cities on the east coast, like Baltimore, heroin trafficking has become a major problem for cities like Martinsburg.
Berkeley County Sheriff Kenny Lemaster says he wants to make sure state officials don’t lose sight of the trafficking problem and ways to fix it. Still, he says he was pleased with the outcome of the governor’s drug summit.
“I think there’s still a lot of things still being worked on, and a lot of things that will still continue to evolve from this," Lemaster said, "As drugs do, they evolve in different ways to create problems for our community and our state, and I think that we’re gonna have to be able to keep an open mind and continue to work through the spin-offs from what’s going on.”
Lemaster says he thinks educating young people about the dangers of drugs early on is one of the best ways in combatting substance abuse.
Substance Abuse Help Hotline: 1-844-HELP4WV