West Virginia’s substance abuse problem is one focus of the Integrated Behavioral Health Conference in Charleston this week. Professionals from health care, government and law enforcement are meeting to find the best ways to handle substance abuse and other mental health needs.
Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Karen Bowling said the idea of the conference began a couple years ago and that the goal is to combine resources in hopes of learning and progressing the field.
“Whether it’s medical professionals, policy makers, law enforcement –we all go at the idea of behavioral health services and substance abuse from a different angle. Bringing individuals together with expert speakers and continuing education credits and really making sure we’ve covered the full gamut of individuals who are dealing with our citizens who are in need of behavioral health services will help us think more collaboratively,” said Bowling.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin outlined a few collaborative efforts to combat substance abuse in an opening keynote speech, which touched on regional drug task forces, prescription disposal centers, and the justice reinvestment act from this past legislative session. He also announced a $9 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that’s been awarded to the state.
“Over the course of five years these federal monies will help expand prevention services state-wide by focusing on prescription drug and alcohol abuse,” Tomblin explained
The Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli, participated in the opening panel discussion at the conference. He said the emphasis on prevention and other collaborative efforts can in some way be attributed to an evolution of perceptions surrounding substance abuse and addiction.
“I think under this Administration we’re really looked at and moved away from this 'War on Drugs' mentality and really focused this issue as a public health-related issue—acknowledging that substance abuse is a disease and that people can get treatment and do recover. One of the issues that is really important to us is how we make sure people are getting good care,” said Botticelli.
Clinical Assistant Professor of Marshall University’s Pharmacy School Brian Gallagher said getting quality care that combats substance abuse means all corners of the health care industry need to be involved, including pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies.
“Everybody has a component in this and I think the part in dealing with the pharmaceutical industry is that they’re recognizing that they don’t want their drugs taken off the market. They don’t want it to be so restrictive that the patients can’t get access to those drugs,” said Gallagher.
“We need to make sure we strike an appropriate balance: the patients who actually need the drugs are able to get them while we’re keeping them out of the hands of the people who abuse them. It’s striking that balance that’s important and working with the pharmaceutical industry and every body involved.”
Asked what type of costs might be associated with potential changes in policy, Secretary Bowling said the state will first look for other grant opportunities. But, she expects any spending in the short term will inevitably save the state money and hopefully will reduce health care costs for individuals.
“If we focus our attention on the right things for the people that we serve, in the long run it’s going to actually reduce costs to the system,” said Bowling.
“What we have to make sure we’re doing is thinking about the client in a holistic manner, that we are looking the physical and the behavioral aspect of care and making sure we’re doing the right thing, at the right place, at the right time.”
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is sponsoring the inaugural conference which runs through Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center.