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Huntington releases new 2-year strategic drug plan


The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Huntington Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy has released its two-year strategic plan for addressing the opioid crisis in Huntington.

The plan lays out all the current and planned efforts regarding the office’s three key areas: prevention, treatment and recovery, and law enforcement.

“This is not the solution,” said Jim Johnson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. “The solution is prevention – getting people from starting in the first place. That’s 15 years down the road. This gives us a guide for what we want to do over the next two years.”

The goal of prevention is to prevent initial drug use and mitigate the public health risks associated with the opioid crisis. The three objectives outlined in the strategic plan are reduce underage drug and alcohol use; prevent the spread of blood-borne pathogens, such as Hepatitis C and HIV; and reduce the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Existing efforts in this matter include youth prevention programs, educational materials and resources for parents about drugs and addiction, and the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s harm reduction program, which houses the county’s syringe exchange. The goal is to further expand these efforts.

The plan identifies neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, as being neglected in terms of primary prevention.

NAS is a cluster of symptoms babies experience when they are exposed to addictive drugs in the womb. Symptoms include restless sleep, increased respiration, convulsions, vomiting and are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDs.

The rate of infants born with NAS has increased steadily from 2009. In 2016, it was estimated the incidence rate of NAS was 49.9 per 1,000 population.

Modeled after an approach in Sevier County, Tennessee, the drug control office is promoting the development of the Cabell County Primary Prevention Initiatives, which will educate women with a history of drug abuse about NAS and provide voluntary long-acting reversible contraceptive options.

A grant application for the program has already been submitted.

The goal of treatment and recovery is to increase the “menu of options” for treatment and recovery and improve coordination between key stakeholders. The three outlined objectives are: expand existing programs and develop outpatient treatment options; develop treatment and recovery programs for women and children; and streamline stakeholders’ efforts and data.

Addiction/recovery leaders in the community estimate 10 percent of the population in Cabell County alone are in active addiction, yet there are only 750 treatment beds in the entire state. All facilities in Cabell County have extensive wait lists.

The strategic plan calls for expanding those services, along with expanding access to medication-assisted treatment and developing more services for women and families.

The Office of Drug Control Policy also wants to develop a Center for Information, Services, Assessment, and Referral, a regional hub where people suffering from substance use disorder can receive information about treatment resources, complete assessments, and receive referrals to programs and services.

It also wants to create a “Smart Community” that integrates the data from multiple stakeholders into a centralized information system.

The goal and main objectives of law enforcement is to improve law enforcement’s ability to target and address drug trafficking and divert people struggling with addiction into treatment and recovery.

The main efforts include working to change “archaic” drug trafficking laws in the state and expanding diversion programs such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD.

Additionally, the plan notes the epidemic in the state emerged after the decline of manufacturing, coal and construction jobs. The area’s economy and unemployment rate also needs to be improved to help curb the opioid epidemic.

The final consideration is stigma, which hinders all progress.

“The MODCP requires and asks for the community’s help – your help – in changing negative perceptions regarding substance abuse and addiction,” the report reads. “Addiction is a disease.”

Dr. Elizabeth Ruth Wilson authored and designed the plan for the city. Most recently, she completed a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, where she was a John F. Kennedy Fellow.

The full plan can be viewed on the city’s website:

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