Huntington citizens and city officials gathered Tuesday to combat the issue of substance abuse in the community at the inaugural Drug Forum at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
The forum, stimulated by a Huntington resident via Facebook, evoked a community conversation between citizens and panelists from various addiction recovery centers, residential organizations and the Huntington Police Department.
The mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy reported by April 6, the number of overdoses in Cabell County totaled 200 with 24 cases resulting in death.
If the trend of approximately two overdoses per day continues to rise in Cabell County, officials said Huntington could reach 700 overdoses with 90 overdose deaths this year.
“We have to have community conversations particularly with this because we have to take ownership of this,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. “This is not someone else’s problem.”
According to the Drug Control Policy Committee, the average age of an overdose patient in Cabell County is 35.7, while the average of fatal overdoses is 41.6. The youngest overdose patient is 12 and the oldest is 78.
“What we are here tonight to do, is not to try to gloss over and say, ‘Oh, everything is going to be okay,’” Williams said. “You have every right to be upset. You have every reason to be scared. We’re all scared witless, but make no mistake about it, we will prevail.”
Matt Boggs, director of development and graduate of The Healing Place, said the forum’s turnout was indicative of the Huntington community’s involvement and desire to persevere.
“I’m proud to be a part of the Huntington recovering community because these are the folks that can help make a difference,” Boggs said. “It’s that element of hope that we need that you can recover from a hopeless state of mind and body.”
Boggs said The Healing Place was cost efficient in comparison to regional jails.
“Currently jail bills cost for each man or woman… approximately $48 to $50 per day for regional jails,” Boggs said. “The Healing Place can provide those same services to where they’re not in a jail incarcerated, but they’re learning about the solution, and we can do that for almost half the cost.”
Boggs said The Healing Place will expand to become a 100-bed facility Thursday.
Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli said collective participation is and has been critical to the movement’s success.
“It’s absolutely thrilling to see this many people and be able to get an opportunity to tell them what we’re doing and hear what their concerns are,” Ciccarelli said.
Matthew Rohrbach, West Virginia delegate, said his involvement with drug prevention began after he attended four young adults’ funerals during a six-month span.
“These are our friends, our family members and our coworkers that are dying,” Rohrbach said. “It’s got to stop.”
Vice Chairwoman Sandra Clements said the substance abuse issue became too close for comfort after she saw evidence of drug trafficking on her property.
She said she worked relentlessly within her community to prevent the flow of drug trafficking and spent spare time cleaning up her district. She urged constituents to do the same in their portion of the city.
“If all these people bundled here tonight, we could make a difference in this program,” Clements said.
The second meeting of the community conversation series is 6:15 p.m. May 5 at the Cabell County Public Library.
Lexi Browning can be contacted at [email protected]