— This piece was originally published in 2014.
Last month, on a random weekday in a local paper, a B-Section front-page title casually read: “Three Arrested on Heroin-Related Charges.” Standard photos of rough-looking customers—two guys, one girl—accompanied the familiar story. In fact, the update barely changed two days later, with only the picture being modified and the words slightly tweaked: “Woman Charged in Fatal Heroin Overdose.” And since then, similar headlines have followed with disheartening regularity. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it isn’t a coincidence, and if you’ve been living for a while in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia—despite its near-endless geographic beauty and access to opportunities both near and far—you know there’s a drug problem around here.
A month before those two headlines ran nearly parallel to one another, a staff member at Rosedale Funeral Chapel and Cemetery in Martinsburg patiently worked with a grieving family as they set about navigating the arduous process of cremating a loved one—in this case, a young man gone too soon—my brother. Sadly enough, he was an ill-fated example of drug use and addiction in the Eastern Panhandle, because he was 37 years old, and what many would consider one of the few remaining addicts from the days when drugs, especially hard drugs, exotic drugs, swept into this area like a wave and started ruining lives in the early ‘90s.
His death was a marker of sorts in the drawn-out history of addiction in this part of the state—preceded by the deaths, or incarcerations, of most of his friends and followers.
Over twenty years have passed since he first decided he’d “experiment” with drugs. Berkeley and Jefferson County have nearly spilled into and on top of one another during that time. Growth, growth, growth—but another kind of evolution has also occurred: substance abuse and addiction. It happens everywhere—every town in America deals with it.
Some of the national stats make West Virginia’s seem modest, while some of our own numbers alarmingly lead the way. Alas, statistics and trends won’t bring back my brother, or the many folks whose lives have played out similarly. They won’t allow him another day with his two young kids. Or his family. In a way that’s hard to put into words, he’s gone—his decades-long struggle having come to a bittersweet end. He leaves behind enough heavy hearts and tired minds to fill a room. He also leaves behind a population just like him, most of them younger, struggling daily in Jefferson and Berkeley Counties, and the surrounding areas, with similar demons—and losing hope as a result. The question remains: Can anything be done to break this cycle?
West Virginia had the highest overdose death rate in America in 2013. Drug overdose is the leading cause of death for West Virginians under 45 years old. Berkeley County leads the state in overdose deaths, and has for a while. The Eastern Panhandle averages a little over seven overdose deaths per year (Charleston Gazette, HealthyAmericans.org, WV Metro News). In a recent article in The Charleston Gazette, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, referenced the rise in such mortality rates in the Panhandle as a result of proximity to D.C. and Baltimore, and affordability. “Families are being decimated. It’s become worse,” he said, “because the cost of heroin has been going down. There’s been a flood of it into the market.”
Unger mentions heroin because people are more likely to OD from it than other drugs, but heroin isn’t the only drug being abused in the Panhandle. Obviously, this isn’t pleasant information, but it has to be discussed. In fact, the only thing that can change it is talking about it, and asking the tough questions. Can it be turned around? Can people in this area suffering from addiction, and the brutal life that comes with it, find hope? Can community members confronted with this issue find compassion and understanding within their own hearts and minds when their instincts lead them to judge? Can local politicians and government see that this issue is less about the legal system and more about human beings?
Bring up “drugs” and most folks in this region are about one degree of separation from it on some level. It seems that almost everyone has witnessed a life, or lives, either destroyed by drugs, or in the agonizing process of being destroyed. But no matter how much we think we know, there’s still a mother, a sister, a brother, a spouse, or a friend out there looking for one more option—one more piece of information that could be the answer. So we’ll do our best here to provide some of that information—and maybe even some hope within a process that is often all but devoid of it.
Finding immediate help is as easy as a phone call: The National Drug Abuse Hotline number is 800-662-4357. Locally, the following three organizations best represent Jefferson County in offering relief and treatment options.
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Eastridge Health Systems. They’re located at 340 Edmond Road, Suite D, in Kearneysville (WV). Reach them by phone at: 304-725-7565 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This organization addresses treatment and provides a wealth of recovery options.
Behavioral Health Services can be found at 44 Trifecta Place, Suite 205, in Charles Town (WV). This group focuses on mental health and substance abuse services by providing treatment, detoxification, and buprenorphine services. They can be reached by phone at: 304-728-3716.
The Jefferson County Day Report Center is located at 121 W. Third Avenue, Ranson (WV). This organization provides assessments, treatment programs, community service, and drug monitoring for non-violent offenders. They can be reached by phone at: 304-728-3527.
— Support groups serve another great, and immediate, source of assistance by providing strength and understanding in numbers, and the resources an addict might need to seek treatment:
Celebrate Recovery is a local group doing big things for addicts in the area. They can be reached at: 304-262-6522 or found online: email@example.com.
Teen Challenge (www.balitmoretc.net) – out of Baltimore, is a top-notch support group for adults, as well. Their purpose is to provide information, education, and lifestyle-altering training programs for those struggling with life-controlling habits. Definitely worth a look.
Narcotics Anonymous (www.na.org and 800-777-1515) reveals locations for any NA meeting in the country. And this site (www.meetings.intherooms.com) lists full schedules for AA and NA meetings locally.
— The following resources link to some of the most comprehensive and supportive addiction and abuse websites online today. They provide locations of services and facilities, educational materials, counselors and free consultations, and numbers to call.
(This page actually lists a valuable collection of in-state WV treatment facilities.)
— And this article would be incomplete without at least a show of support for one of the most successful rehab endeavors in the country: Delancey Street Foundation. Delancey Street is one of the most innovative, inviting, and rewarding treatment programs you will find. They have multiple facilities around the nation, and if you want to change your life, you’ll get in. You just have to make the effort to get there. They’ll take care of the rest. Don’t hesitate to check them out.