Congressman Nick Joe Rahall (D-WV) was one of a host of special guests in Logan on Friday, May 3 with words of advice and congratulations for three young people who had successfully completed the Logan County Juvenile Drug Court program.
Congressman Rahall thanked the staff of the Logan County Drug Court and Day Report programs and the Logan Circuit Court for their hard work and support in helping their clients get off drugs and back into the mainstream of life. Rahall noted that substance abuse is one of life’s greatest challenges for many people.
“We know how severe and crippling drug abuse is,” he said, adding that there was no easy solution for the problem. “You cannot wave a magic wand and expect it to go away.”
“We know what drug abuse does to our economy and our workforce,” he said. “It takes a tremendous toll on our state and our nation.”
Rahall and other speakers spoke about how West Virginia was “Ground Zero” in terms of the devastating effect of Opoid pain pills such as Oxycontin and Oxycodone, which had created a modern substance abuse epidemic that affected families across the country.
“This happened because of a unique set of circumstances,” Rahall said of an issue that came about when many doctors wound up overprescribing powerful pain medication to patients (often injured coal miners) who wound up addicted to them. Rahall noted that neighboring Kentucky, another rural coal mining state, had the same problem.
Rahall said that only by everybody working together, from families and communities to law enforcement, court officials and elected officials could the problem be addressed successfully. He noted it is a challenge that faces everybody in the modern world.
“God bless you for the work you have done,” Rahall said.
Logan Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant was the master of ceremonies for the event, and noted that the Drug Court programs could not exist without the support of the Federal Government as well as local government. Two young men and one young lady were this term’s graduates, having completed a host of requirements, including frequent drug screenings, counseling and improved academic performance. O’Briant pointed out that everybody has a close friend or family member who has been affected by substance abuse and he noted the Drug Court program was just one tool that could be used to help deal with the drug addiction problem faced by so many people.
Representatives were present from Senator Joe Manchin’s office and Senator Jay Rockefeller. Mike Browning, a representative from Manchin read a note from the Senator congratulating the graduates for their hard work and success and pointing out that their experience in the Drug Court program had provided them with an exciting opportunity at obtaining a brighter future.
Local senators and delegates from the West Virginia Legislature were also on hand.
Dr. Ron Stollings went into detail about the beginnings of the pain pill epidemic and the struggles it has made for so many Mountaineers.
Stollings noted that several years ago at the cusp of the problem some doctors had been sued for not treating pain symptoms adequately. When many injured miners started taking more of the pain pills to cope with workplace injuries they wound up getting hooked on them, and inevitably the popularity of the pills hit the streets making them become more in demand than many common “street drugs.”
“We did not know how addictive Oxycontin and Hydrocodone were,” he said. “Now, we have a lot of backtracking to do.”
Stollings noted that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the Legislature were adressing this problem through many ways, including recent legislation to crack down on “pill mills” which are clinics operated by shady doctors who cash in on the demand for such pills by addicts. One recent bust took place outside the town of West Logan a few months ago when an out-of-state doctor was caught allegedly dispensing pills on Sundays to local addicts.
“This is something we have to tackle,” Dr. Stollings said, adding that he had heard figures that as much as 80 percent of the cost of operating the regional jails is substance abuse related.
Stollings also congratulated the trio of graduates noting that by successfully completing the program, “this can be your chance at having an ordinary life.” and he urged them to be role models for other young people in their community. Stollings pointed out that addiction is an illness similar to diabetes in that it cannot be cured, but has to be monitored and dealt with on a daily basis.
Delegates Ted Tomblin and Rupie Phillips also encouraged the graduates to stay sober and continue to work towards a better life through education and the world of work. “You are young and have much to look forward to,” Phillips said noting that bad intentions seldom lead to good results. “Stay in a positive frame of mind- you know what is right in your heart,” he added.
Tomblin congratulated the graduates and thanked the staff of the Logan Drug Court and Day Report programs for their work in helping people combat their substance abuse problems.
WV State Senator Art Kirkendoll said the trio of graduates had a unique opportunity to build better lives for themselves and to show others it can be done. Kirkendoll said the people in the treatment programs did not need people to tell them how easy it was, because they knew better than that. Kirkendoll noted that as the son of a coal miner himself he knew how easy it was to stumble in life and get started down the wrong path due to alcohol and drugs. Kirkendoll said about two decades ago the pain pill problem started becoming prevalent in the coalfields. He noted that along with the new powerful pain medications that were originally meant for terminal illness patients opportunities for people to get hooked on them came with improvements in transportation. He noted that drug dealers from other areas were now able to come to the mountains and exploit local people suffering from addiction.
Many people struggle in life and many people struggle with addiction, he said, adding, “I understand those struggles.”
However, with enough hard work and enough support from programs such as those available in Logan and other counties, Kirkendoll said the people who had been hit hard by addiction could turn things around for themselves, “pick themselves up, and go on and take the next step and become the person they want to be- lucky proud and effective.”
Kirkendoll noted that many addicts had hurt their families worse than they had harmed themselves and urged all people in the drug treatment programs to remember that and keep their families in mind when struggling with their addictions. Kirkendoll said it took hard work and strength to combat substance abuse and life’s other challenges effectively and noted that it was relatively easy for people to abuse drugs in comparison.
Kirkendoll also spoke of the nexus of the pain pill problem, noting that Oxycontin and oxycodone were developed for treatment of terminal patients and they had been tremendously successful- especially in sales at pharmacies. “Then it hit the streets.”
“You take one, you feel better. You take two, you feel even better…You take three, sooner or later you develop a problem…” he said.
Kirkendoll said it was important for the people who were working on their own drug abuse problems in the treatment programs to remember, “nobody is better than you. You can determine what you want to do and go do it…Life will never get better until you determine to make it so.”
He said that when new programs became available, such as Home Confinement, then Day Report, then Juvenile Drug Court followed by Drug Court for adults, some people were skeptical, but he, County Commissioners Willie Akers, Danny Godby and other county officials like Rocky Adkins felt they were important in helping get people back on track in life.
“You cannot put a dollar value on people’s lives,” he said. “It is our job to find the money for these programs. It is your job to prove them effective and show that it is worth the effort.”
Kirkendoll noted that he cared because he had friends and family members himself who struggled with the same problems and noted “nobody is free from it.”