PARKERSBURG – In an effort to battle substance abuse in West Virginia, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse and six regional task forces have been traveling the state to hear from those facing the problem at the local level.
Kathy Paxton, the director of Substance Abuse Services Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, said during Wednesday’s meeting of the region three task force in Parkersburg there is a problem concerning substance abuse in West Virginia. It is now time to determine what the specific issues are for each part of the state, Paxton said.
“We all know there is a problem so we don’t need to spend a lot of time to determine if there is a problem or not,” she said. “What we need to know is what those issues are in each region.”
Region three covers Wood, Tyler, Pleasants, Ritchie, Jackson, Wirt, Roane and Calhoun counties.
Paxton said each session is different in its approach but the goal of each is to prioritize the needs of the community and to determine their status on the state strategic plan.
The session in Parkersburg was to see where the community is in relation to the strategic plan, she said. One area is for the local groups to see how they are doing in developing partnerships in their plan with a goal of having more partnerships than they had when they started.
“It’s not what I think,” she said. “From my perspective I can set the example of creating partnerships that may or may not make it easy for them and our hope is what we do will be mirrored at the community level.”
Paxton said the meetings will determine what makes each region unique compared to other regions.
In 2011, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made an executive order in the development of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse and established six regional task forces.
Paxton said since the task forces began progress has been made to combat the substance abuse problem in the state.
“Senate Bill 437 is a comprehensive bill on substance abuse that came directly from the task force,” she said. “You are two steps from the governor’s office.”
Now, Paxton said, the work is to determine strategies at the local level and how groups involved in all aspects of battling substance abuse can come together to make changes.
Paxton said one area they have been working on because of comments from the local groups is increased physician engagement.
“We’ve been working with the state medical association and a couple of physicians in providing the best prescriber education,” she said. “This is a result of you saying in the community ‘we need to do something about these physicians over prescribing,’ so now all physicians are required to do three hours of continuing education.”
Many times, she said, they found they needed more training in working with behavioral health and mental health issues.
Paxton said her counterparts in other states ask her how West Virginia was able to pass a law because they have problems at the level of their state licensing board on that.
“We are ahead of the curve and not only are we working with physicians, we now have started working with those in their residency,” she said.
Paxton said they have seen a need to work with residents on best prescribing practices and so far they have worked with 80 residents.
Paxton said the key is prevention.
“We have people say ‘we need more treatment, we need more treatment,'” she said. “We can’t stop prevention; we still have to push that age of onset and we have to keep children from using that first time, so prevention is key with early intervention.”
Many of those at the meeting said they are working on raising awareness of help that is available if they or someone they know or in their family is in need of assistance with a substance abuse problem
Jo Ann Powell of Westbrook Health Services said while the work has appeared to be frustrating there has been progress in available help.
“We have a lot more prevention opportunities available in all eight counties, especially in the rural counties, that did not have many services,” she said. “It has been productive.”
Karen Schimmel, also with Westbrook Health Services, said they have made progress in educating businesses and making them aware of what can be done to help an employee who is impaired by substance abuse.
“Communication has improved,” Powell said.
“A lot of collaboration has occurred between the legal system and the treatment professionals in adolescent and adult services,” Schimmel said. “We just received the award for the regional youth service grant to cover our area and we are in the initial stages of that grant and working with others who work with children and adults.”
Paxton said a report of the findings from the regional meetings will presented to Tomblin in December.