Mayor’s drug control plan praised after president vist


City officals continue to praise Huntington Mayor Steve Williams’ drug control policy following the arrival of President Barack Obama, who highlighted the drug problem in West Virginia.

The three-pronged policy focuses on prevention, treatment and law enforcement, as opposed to the law enforcement-only approach of the past.

“We admitted we have problems,” said Jim Johnson, director of the Office of Drug Control Policy. “But we are looking at innovative solutions not tried before in the state.”

Johnson said the city cannot arrest its way out of the problem, but a strong law enforcement presence is still necessary.

Johnson said demand for illegal drugs, such as heroin and other opiates, needs to be reduced in order to stop widespread use.

Bryan Chambers, director of communications for the mayor’s office, said the city has been successful in bringing other groups to lend resources to deal with the issue.

“Several of the agencies were already doing remarkable work individually,” Chambers said.

Chambers said addicts should be brought to a portal of recovery. Several recovery and treatment options exist in Huntington, such as the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s programs and Recovery Point.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department implemented a syringe exchange program this year to reduce the spread of communicable diseases via needle sharing.

The exchange allows people struggling with addiction to come into contact with recovery coaches. The program exists to help addicts access key resources.

Johnson said help from Congressman Evan Jenkins, Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Shelley Moore Capito helped to expand resources in the state, like the drug court system.

President Obama’s visit brought the problems West Virginians have been dealing with for years back into the spotlight.

“Obama’s visit reaffirmed what we were already doing,” Johnson said.

West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the nation, at about twice the national average.

“Now is not the time to celebrate,” Chambers said. “But we feel very confident.”

John Cole Glover can be contacted at [email protected].