CHARLESTON – Since becoming governor, I’ve made helping those struggling with substance abuse one of my top priorities, and I’m proud of the progress we are making in this difficult fight.
A few weeks ago, we were privileged to welcome President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell – a native West Virginian – to the Mountain State to focus on collective efforts to stop drug and alcohol abuse, and we had a tremendous turnout for my Substance Abuse Summit in Martinsburg.
While there certainly is more work to be done on the local, state and federal level, our actions are making a difference in the lives of West Virginians.
Substance abuse knows no boundaries, and this epidemic is ruining the lives of far too many of our family members, friends and neighbors. An addiction to alcohol, prescription pain medication or illegal street drugs can affect the richest of the rich and the poorest of poor. Its aftermath can be seen in city streets and the rural countryside.
Whether we’ve personally experienced a family member battle an addiction or watched as a friend or neighbor struggled on the path toward recovery, all of us have been touched by this heartbreaking epidemic in one way or another. During our Martinsburg summit, my friend Doug Copenhaver, president of the Berkeley County Council, shared his personal, heartbreaking story about losing his son to the consequences of substance abuse. The example from Doug’s family shows that this is not a rural or urban issue, a Democratic or Republican issue, or a black or white issue.
Through the years, substance abuse has become one of the largest problems we are facing here in the Mountain State—affecting our homes, our schools and our communities—and it must be stopped.
In 2011, I took the first step to address this problem and established the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse (GACSA) and six Regional Substance Abuse Task Forces. Since then, I’ve charged members with working together to find better, more localized ways to combat substance abuse in our communities. More than 4,000 West Virginians have attended 102 public Task Force meetings to share valuable input and make specific recommendations on how we can best address the unique substance abuse battles in all corners of our state.
I expect to receive the newest recommendations from this task force soon, and I am eager to make their hard work worthwhile with new initiatives to help those struggling across our state.
We’ve also added two new resources to help in our efforts. In September, we launched 1-844-HELP4WV, the state’s first-ever substance abuse help line, that offers trained counselors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help connect people with the services they need to get help with substance abuse or other behavioral health issues. A comprehensive services list can be found at www.help4wv.com?. To support this effort, we’ve also produced a brochure that highlights more than 140 places in every region of the state where people can get inpatient or outpatient treatment and prevention services in their local community. It’s available by calling our office at 304-558-2000 or can be downloaded here.
We will continue our fight against substance abuse from a number of fronts, from additional legislation and federal programs to programs and services at the local level. It’s important to remember that while we can pass laws to assist in our efforts, our community partners carry out this legislation, enforce these regulations and support these programs every day in their hometowns.
In the meantime, please know – and let others know – that West Virginia is committed to providing the resources our residents need. There is hope and help for people struggling with substance abuse. All they need to do is ask.
Tomblin is governor of West Virginia.