In West Virginia, communities and families have struggled with the drug epidemic far more than most other states. This is no secret.
But, West Virginia has also made progress in addressing this crisis, developing real solutions on the ground that work, and ultimately serving as a model for others to follow as the nation grapples with this epidemic.
Last week, we had the chance to see some of these solutions in action in Williamson. Not only are these innovative solutions working to help individuals and families cope with the consequences of addiction, but they are also helping our communities get back on track as sons and daughters, mothers and fathers re-enter the workforce, ultimately breathing life back into the communities here in Southern West Virginia.
Our first stop with Dr. Dino Beckett provided us the opportunity to learn more about how a small rural medical facility like the Williamson Health and Wellness Center is a crucial part of medically underserved community.
Dr. Beckett is doing great work providing basic health care for Williamson, while also operating a Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinic for those suffering from opioid-use disorder. Importantly, Dr. Beckett is also involved in the full continuum of care for these patients, working diligently to reintegrate them into the workforce and society.
For example, The Williamson Food Company, which is a non-profit that employs individuals in recovery, gives people a steady job and paycheck, and a renewed sense of purpose in life. To ultimately be successful in stopping the drug epidemic, we need to treat individuals but also must give them opportunity to work again.
We also had the chance to attend the Mingo County Drug Court Graduation Ceremony where we met graduates, Rebecca and Nathan, followed by a visit to the Southwestern Regional Day Report Center, which also plays a role in the Drug Court program. People like Rebecca and Nathan, as well as Judge Thompson and others involved in making this program a success, are truly changing lives. Witnessing the effects of this epidemic are crushing, but celebrating monumental occasions like Drug Court Graduations give us hope that others can get their lives back on track just as Rebecca and Nathan did. They are proof that recovery is real in West Virginia, and if done properly, it can work.
Together, we’ve worked to direct more resources to West Virginia — specifically rural states and rural counties like Mingo and Logan counties. These are the areas that need them the most. Whether it’s for treatment, education, prevention, or reintegration, it’s clear that these dollars — regardless of their amount — go a long way. Washington does not have all of the answers, which is why it’s important for us to get out into the field and witness the problem — and the solutions in action — firsthand.
Whether it’s learning more about the progress Dr. Beckett is making in downtown Williamson, or Judge Thompson’s success with drug court graduates like Rebecca and Nathan, and others in the Williamson area, this feedback is valuable. It helps us think about what is working and what is not, so we can make better-informed decisions as policymakers.
There’s no question that President Trump has made it a priority to fight this drug epidemic. His administration’s commitment to doing so has been historic, and we are starting to see results. Take the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that showed drug overdose deaths declined nationwide in 2018 for the first time in 29 years. In West Virginia, drug overdose deaths dropped by 11% in 2018, nearly tripling the national average decline.
This is progress. But, it doesn’t mean we should slow down our efforts. We still have a lot of work to do.
West Virginians know that there is no silver bullet when it comes to the opioid epidemic, but the solutions we saw here in Williamson and the many, many others that are taking place all across the state are making a difference, and they are an important step in this broader ongoing fight.
As we mentioned before, recovery in West Virginia is real, and what we saw in Williamson is a great example of this. Visits like this encourage us as partners, in the United States Senate and in the Trump administration, to redouble our efforts to end the drug epidemic in our state and nation.