Heroin addiction, overdose, kids growing up to become drug abusers. It’s a national problem. Prevention can solve it, but where do we start?

The Martinsburg Initiative (TMI) is an innovative, multi-dimensional partnership that has developed a model solution to the crisis of Opioid Use Disorder and the general problems of other substance use, misuse, and substance use disorders.

Through a strategic focus targeting at-risk children and troubled families, TMI assesses, identifies, and eliminates many of the basic causes of drug abuse. Grounded in science and focused upon a family based, school-centered, and community-building approach, TMI is strengthening families, empowering communities, and endeavoring to provide a long-term solution to the devastating opioid epidemic.

Maury Richards, Martinsburg Chief of Police and Chair of the TMI executive board, originated the concept of the initiative and presented the idea to Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon.

“Superintendent Arvon was very enthusiastic, and we immediately started building the partnership,” explained Richards. “Since that time, TMI has grown to include Shepherd University, the Washington/Baltimore High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, the Boys & Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle, and other community and faith-based organizations.”

Tiffany Hendershot, Social Worker at Winchester Avenue School (Martinsburg) and Project Director of TMI, was instrumental in getting the initiative successfully started as a pilot program in December 2016 at Winchester Avenue and Burke Street Elementary Schools. It was used as the basis for a federal grant funded by the Office for National Drug Control Policy and the Centers for Disease Control.

“As the project director, I oversee day-to-day operations,” she pointed out. “I work with children and families, do home visits, referrals to after-school programs and community services, trauma-sensitive training and information sessions on ACEs, mentor recruitment, organize community events, and do the data collection, follow-ups, and budgeting for the grant.”

The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) research connects traumatic experiences in childhood to adverse life outcomes. The ACE questionnaire compromises of ten questions ranging from experiencing emotional abuse to witnessing domestic violence to someone in the home having a substance-abuse issue. Each yes answer is a score of one. As a person’s score increases, so do their risks for negative health, social, and behavioral outcomes.

“If we know kids are having negative experiences, then we can focus our resiliency efforts on them,” added Hendershot. “We can work to connect them to services, after-school activities, and a mentor. We can help them get into a summer camp. We can have parenting classes and trauma sensitivity classes in the community. All of this will increase protective factors for children and decrease the risk for drug use.”

TMI has partnered with the Children’s Home Society’s We Can program, a community-based mentoring effort designed to train and prepare mentors to partner with youth and families. It uses mentoring as an intervention because research proves that one positive adult relationship is the best indicator for success in at-risk children.

“There are lots of ways the community can get involved. Becoming a We Can mentor is the most immediate way to make a difference,” urged Hendershot. “Your organization can work with a school to offer an after-school program or host an event in a community in Martinsburg.”

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