Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

SUBSTANCE ABUSE IN W.VA. ; State Struggles to Provide Treatment; There Are about 750 Beds for Those Seeking Help; 60,000 Identified in Need

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

SUBSTANCE ABUSE IN W.VA. ; State Struggles to Provide Treatment; There Are about 750 Beds for Those Seeking Help; 60,000 Identified in Need

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It wasn't long after he became addicted in 2006 that Aaron Chaffins started looking for a way out - short-term treatment wasn't working, and every residential treatment center he called in his home state of Kentucky left him feeling more hopeless than ever. "It's discouraging, when you call a place because you want to change your life, and you realize you can't get in, Chaffins said. "I know that, for a while, it made me feel like there weren't any good people out there. It made me feel like nobody cared.

It wasn't until after he was arrested in 2010 that Chaffins found The Healing Place of Huntington, now called Recovery Point, and entered its long-term residential treatment facility. Sober since February of 2013, Chaffins has worked as a peer mentor for Recovery Point since graduating from the program, and said the long-term facility and his continued involvement in others' recovery have made and kept him drug free.

"I was born in Kentucky, but West Virginia saved my life, he said.

In a way, Chaffins is lucky - many addicts never make it to treatment. According to a study published by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, only 22 percent of opioid users in the U.S. participated in any form of addiction treatment between 2009 and 2013.

In West Virginia, about 15,000 people received some form of drug or alcohol abuse treatment last year, according to the West Virginia Behavioral Health Providers Association. In contrast, nearly 60,000 West Virginians were identified as in need of substance abuse treatment, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Nearly 2,900 West Virginians have died after overdosing on prescription painkillers or heroin in the past five years, according to the West Virginia Health Statistics Center. West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, with nearly 34 deaths per 100,000 people - more than twice the national average. Heroin and prescription pain pills, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, caused nearly 90 percent of those drug overdose deaths since 2011, according to the Health Statistics Center data.

There are about 750 treatment beds in West Virginia, according to Kim Walsh, deputy commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau of Behavioral Health and Health Facilities. Those beds are in several types of facilities:

* About 130 beds in detox/crisis stabilization centers, which keep users for an average of seven to 10 days while they work the drugs out of their system.

* About 100 beds in residential programs that are 28 days or longer.

* The rest are in recovery residence programs, which usually cater to those who have detoxed and need long-term recovery support, Walsh said.

West Virginia has about 140 new treatment beds slated to open in the coming months, she said.

Recovery Point of Huntington, the largest long-term facility in the state, with more than 100 beds, has a waiting list that is four to six months long.

Others are even longer - Carl Sullivan, vice chairman of West Virginia University's School of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, said the state provides good clinical services, but there just aren't enough clinics and therapists to help everyone that has a drug abuse problem.

"If you have an opioid dependency, unless you have lots of money, you're in trouble, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said WVU Medicine's call center has recently started putting people on a waiting list when they call for opioid abuse treatment. The center used to have a first-come, first-served policy, but drug abuse patients have overwhelmed the call center. A month after the wait list was created, there is a year-long wait for treatment, he said. The waiting list is filled with callers who were willing to wait, while others may have decided not to put their names on it, Sullivan said.

"And we don't advertise that we treat opioid addiction, he said. …

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