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Community leaders battle drugs

By Staff | Dec 31, 2014

Community leaders in northern West Virginia are working on a collaborative approach to combat drug abuse and overdose deaths in the region.

“The number of the Ohio Valley residents abusing heroin and other opioid drugs is staggering,” said U.S Attorney William Ihlenfeld II, adding that research shows you can buy a bag of heroin on the streets of the Ohio Valley for around $8 to $10.

“This is not simply a law enforcement problem, we are facing a true public health crisis. Our plan starts with more impactful education that will resonate with our young people. But we also need to engage the community at all levels to choke off the supply of heroin, to prevent people from abusing opioid drugs, and to ultimately build an adequate infrastructure to treat individuals that do become addicted,” Ihlenfeld said.

Ihlenfeld and First Judicial Circuit Judge David Sims spearheaded the initiative to incorporate eight subcommittees that have been meeting since August 2014. During a meeting this month at Wheeling Hospital, they presented what they called the Ohio Valley Addiction Action Plan (OVAAP), which is a strategy to address the growing drug problem in our area. According to Ihlenfeld, the plan is unique because it combines expertise from education, law enforcement, health care, news media, business, legislative, treatment, and recovery.

The following are chairperson for each subcommittee: Dr. Angelo Georges, M.D., chief medical officer at Wheeling Hospital, Medical Subcommittee; Dr. Dianna Vargo, superintendent of Ohio County Schools, Education Subcommittee; Erikka Storch, W.Va House of Delegates, Business & Legislation Subcommittee; Sheriff Chuck Jackson, Brooke County Sheriff’s Department, Law Enforcement Subcommittee; Mark Games, president/CEO of Northwood Health Systems, Mental Health/Substance Abuse Treatment Subcommittee; Terry Stemple, CEO of Healthways Inc., Mental Health/Substance Abuse Treatment Subcommittee; James Lee, retired Chief Probation Officer of the First Judicial Circuit for the Community Corrections Subcommittee; Brenda Danehart, news director for WTRF, News Media Subcommittee; Patti Barnabei, founder of Never Alone W.Va., Support Groups Subcommittee.

During the meeting at Wheeling Hospital, other facts were shared: prescription pain killers have risen in popularity and when they are not available, addicts resort to other drugs such as heroin; more than two-thirds of heroin addicts have previously abused prescription pain killers; the reason people tend to resort to heroin is because of its availability.

During a presentation by Danehart, she showed a PSA that aired on television that noted in the past two years the region has lost 290 lives to overdoses.

Each chairperson present spoke about their concerns of the growing drug problem in the region and their goals and action plan to combat this issue.

After each chairperson spoke, the floor was opened up to the public to ask questions and many people asked questions and expressed support the OVAAP. Those interested in additional information can contact the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia at 304-234-0100. Continuing updates will also be available through the U.S Attorney’s official Twitter page @NDWVnews.