City of Buckhannon West Virginia
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Hope & Health Assembly



Good afternoon friends, & welcome to HAHA2.  HAHA as coined by Matt Kerner & me last summer as we were organizing our first event held last September right here in beautiful Jawbone Park- stands for Hope And Help Assembly.  I know folks who wince when I talk about our drug problems.  Some folks would rather me talk exclusively about the good stuff- our Stockert facility, or the Colonial Theatre, or Trader’s Alley, or new buildings going up around town- & indeed there are many good things happening in Buckhannon.  But- we as a society cannot shy away from what the drug epidemic is robbing us all from- the talents, skills, contributions of hundreds of people right here in our B-U community, often our younger residents- the very people who we want to thrive & lead us in our future.  We have to do better by these “lost souls.”  But, those of us who aren’t addicts are also being robbed of our collective peace of mind.

Many of you are aware of my son’s addiction & my recent sharings about how his crisis has impacted me, the disrupted sleep, the theft of treasured possessions, the dread of the next call coming that your once little buddy is hospitalized or worse- has been found dead.  During the couple of years that Matt & I have become close friends, I’ve come to know so many people who are in recovery.  Matt will tell you that more than 25 million people are now in recovery in the U.S. alone.  We currently have 327 million people in the U.S., so- one in 13 of us are recovering right now.  We all know an addict, & most of us know well more than one.

If that statistic doesn’t grab your attention, perhaps this one will.  The Center for Disease Control & the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that every 25 minutes, a baby is born withdrawing from opioid withdrawal.  This condition is known as N.A.S., standing for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.  The average hospital stay for these infants is 16.9 days, and the cost is billions of dollars annually with 81%+ of all costs being paid by state Medicaid programs.  The average cost for each infant hospital stay is $66,700.

Last Fall, PBS did a piece on Huntington’s hospital.  Please indulge me while I share an excerpt from the online article about PBS’s well-researched article.  “On bad days, five new babies are born in withdrawal from opioids at Cabell County-Huntington Hospital in southern West Virginia. In the neonatal therapeutic unit, there are zero unoccupied beds, but staff can’t turn the infants away. On one week in mid-August, the unit held 27 newborn babies in a space designed for 15.

“The trademark hum & ding of monitors and alarms are absent from this neonatal unit. That’s by design — those noises overstimulate babies born addicted to opioids & going through withdrawal. When the babies cry, nurses don’t bounce them; they sway from side to side. They don’t smile at them – that’s overwhelming, too. To soothe the babies, who cramp & shudder, nurses slowly turn them to face a muted gray wall. They keep the lights low &, over the course of days or weeks, taper doses of the drugs until the babies are healthy & need no more.  Each year, this hospital delivers roughly 2,900 babies from West Virginia, Kentucky & Ohio. Of those babies, one-fifth were exposed to controlled substances during pregnancy, & as many as 400 babies require medication for withdrawal. Sara Murray opened the neonatal unit five years ago to meet that demand.

Each child who enters her unit has been diagnosed at birth with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a term used to describe the group of problems that occur in babies born exposed to addictive opiate drugs, and which can result in a lifetime of developmental delays. Each child is referred to Child Protective Services, an agency bloated with hundreds of new foster cases fueled by the opioid crisis from across the state in the last year alone.”  Remember friends, this is but one, West Virginia hospital-

On June 18, 1971, President Richard Nixon commenced our society’s “War on Drugs.”  That American battle has raged on for more than 47 years now.  Two years prior to this, in 1969- Nixon had formally declared our nation’s “war on drugs” that would be directed toward eradication, interdiction, and incarceration.  Today, the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for an end to the “War on Drugs,” estimates that the United States spends $51 billion annually on these initiatives.  Our nation has spent approaching two trillion dollars on the “War on Drugs.”  2.3 million Americans are in jail right now, or one in every 110 of our citizens.  My kid is one of those people.  Approximately five million Americans are on probation or parole right now, or about one in 50.  Most of these people are incarcerated due to some form of drug involvement.

The single biggest expenditure in our War on Drugs has been the building of new prisons & the cost of incarcerating millions of our citizens.  More Americans are in jails today than at any time in our nation’s history, & we are trending upward.  Beginning in the 1980s, the number of people jailed for drug offenses increased by 126%.  Since 2008, we have averaged more than 1.5 million people arrested in the U.S. annually for drug offenses, a half million of which are incarcerated- each year.  Mandatory minimum sentencing requirements at the federal level have resulted in many citizens receiving stiff penalties of many years for nothing more than possessing illegal drugs.

Imagine what our society would be like if a fraction of what we spend on locking people up was to be expended in therapeutic programs- detox centers, residential placement facilities, counseling, & reintroduction to the workforce initiatives.

We cannot continue to wait on our federal or state governments to address our drug crisis.  We have to do our part at the local level.  In February of 2017, the City of Buckhannon launched the HOPE Project –

“A holistic, community-supported approach to assisting addicts in their recovery & reintroducing them as contributing members of our society by assuring that addicts’ health needs are met, that they sense there are bona fide opportunities at turning their lives around, that they have a place to call home, & that there are employers willing to take a chance on employing them.  We will have meaningful dialogue and commitment from government & area employers to create genuine hope for those recovering.

HEALTH – intervention, detox, recovery, & counseling for addicts & their families

OPPORTUNITY – a second chance, a fresh start, a clean slate, a non-judgmental support network during addicts’ lifetimes of recovery

PLACE – residential options or services in the home, we all need “our place”

EMPLOYMENT – a consortium of employers willing to discreetly give recovering addicts a chance to return to gainful employment, & hence a sense of value as sustaining, productive members of our community

I implore you all to join us, to end the failed, judgmental approach.  The old notion that addicts simply need to pull themselves up by their boot-straps is a myth that has been perpetuated for a half century.  Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign launched in the 80s hasn’t worked.  Addicts cannot just “say no.”  People need help- & our addict population is part of “US” and “WE” need to provide help.  “Help” is not achieved by locking more people up.  I am uplifted by the many friends I’ve made who are in recovery.  I celebrate with them when they post anniversary dates of their “clean” time.  For me- right now, my time is “Day 18.”  It’s been 18 days that my son, Connor, has been in jail because of his addiction.  Help us end this equal opportunity plague.  Remember- we really are ALL in It together.  The “IT” today- is our drug epidemic.  We all own “IT.”

Enjoy a great second HAHA-  Thanks to Matt Kerner & Opportunity House!