by KATE EVANS
A community forum at the Paw Paw Public Library last Thursday focused on the dangers of prescription drugs, heroin and methamphetamine Roughly 20 attended the event. Some spoke of family members who struggled with addiction or who were lost in drug overdoses. Others expressed concerns about drug activity in the town.
The community meeting was sponsored by Life or Drugs, Tri-State Support and the Morgan County Partnership.
Melody Stotler, Life or Drugs, Tri-State Support executive director and Morgan County Partnership program coordinator, led the presentation.
Paw Paw Library director Ginny DiFrancesco said she met Stotler at a grant award ceremony and invited her to speak due to local concerns about drug overdoses, drug arrests and the well-being of town children.
DiFrancesco said she wanted Paw Paw residents to know that Life or Drugs and the Morgan County Partnership had information that could help.
Stotler said their Life or Drugs Circle support group for addicts and their loved ones has had nearly 500 people come through since it began. It meets on Tuesdays from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. They also have a Team HOPE peer support group for ages 10-16 that meets weekly on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. with adult volunteers and mentors. Subject matter includes bullying, split-family situations, anger issues and low self-esteem. Both groups meet at the Refuge Community Church at 33 Union Street beside the 7-11 in Berkeley Springs.
The Morgan County Partnership offers drug prevention education in Morgan County Schools including the Too Good For Drugs and Violence Curriculum, youth groups and parent education.
Stotler said that some people become addicted to opiates after being prescribed pain medicines for injuries. They take extra pills to stay ahead of the pain and then need more pills for the same pain relief and become addicted.
When doctors cut off the prescription supply, addicts get physical withdrawal symptoms and chemical brain imbalances, often before their brains are fully developed. Many turn to the streets for heroin, which is cheaper than pharmaceuticals.
“Deep down these people want help,” she stressed.
Some kids test the waters of drugs, often starting with marijuana, and then get swept away, Stotler said. A few get shot up with drugs by their own parents. Others turn to prescription drugs as a coping mechanism after physical or sexual abuse.
One woman that’s a longtime recovering addict lost her children and still can’t see them. Morgan County Partnership teaches that “there are consequences to decisions that we make today that will have an effect on the rest of your life and the lives of others too,” Stotler said of addiction.
Stotler told the Paw Paw group they weren’t alone. West Virginia is first in the nation in the number of overdoses. Many rural areas in the state are overwhelmed by drug addiction and overdoses. The situation is bad in Morgan County and Paw Paw, Stotler said. They’ve lost six members of their recovery group from overdoses.
Berkeley County’s issues are worse and included Hepatitis A and Hepatitis C from drug use.
Town of Paw Paw Police Officer Brandon Arnica moved back home to Paw Paw after being gone for 17 years. Arnica said that meth has taken over here. He said poor man’s “shake and make” meth that’s made in mobile labs is in the area. He’s heard that Flakka, the zombie-like drug, may be here, too.
During traffic stops, Paw Paw officers are always looking for drugs. Police carry Narcan for themselves or their canine units if they come across Fentanyl, Arnica noted.
Paw Paw Church of Christ Minister Richard White, who ran ambulance calls with the Paw Paw Volunteer Fire Company for 13 years, said the fire department had training years back for meth fires.
“We knew they were happening,” he said.
Town of Paw Paw Police Chief Justin Jenkins said on Monday that Paw Paw police are hearing about a lot of opioids and methamphetamine coming through the town. They confiscated 94 grams of uncut heroin a couple months back. Paw Paw only had a couple of official overdoses this year but generally overdoses are dealt with quietly and not reported to the police, he said.
Jenkins said the opioid and drug problems are everywhere in Paw Paw, Morgan County and West Virginia and they can’t get any help.
Twila Montessi, Mountaineer Community Health Center nurse, talked about Vivitrol, a non-addictive medication prescribed for opioid dependence after detoxification that helps prevent relapse that works with counseling. It’s administered in a once-a-month shot and is offered at their facility. Montessi noted that people have to really want to recover and be completely off opioids to start Vivitrol.
Jami Cross, Paw Paw Schools social worker, said her heart is breaking for the children that are struggling with trauma and she can’t sleep at night from worrying about them.
Cross provides one-to-one counseling at school and also small group counseling sessions.
Cross said Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma that kids suffer create chemical imbalances in their brain. Those experiences can include parental drug addiction, divorce, abuse, neglect, losing a lot of relatives to cancer, being sexually assaulted and having mental illness or suicide in the family or family members that are incarcerated.
Cross said she’s glad that the community was having this conversation.
“If we don’t do something now, kids will think it’s normal,” Stotler said of children living with family addiction and trauma.
Stotler said that Paw Paw could form a coalition to address the community drug issues, meet monthly and pursue grant funding for programs to help.
Stotler gave the group some ideas about how to get organized. She said they needed a mover and a shaker — someone who was dedicated and passionate about wanting to see things change, perhaps someone that had a loved one dealing with addiction or recovery or that had lost someone to drugs.
The community could organize a Team Hope group for Paw Paw for ages 10-16 or even younger and hold a community event with prevention information, music and raffles. Cross said they’d had a couple of events in Paw Paw this summer for kids and families.
Arnica said Paw Paw is a great little town and it’s all about making the community better. He encouraged people to come to Paw Paw Town Council meetings with their concerns.
“United we stand, divided we fall,” he noted.
Local recovery group plans
Minister Richard White plans to begin a local “Celebrate Recovery” group for those struggling with drugs, alcohol or other addictions, abuse, bullying, anxiety, anger management issues or being workaholics.
“Celebrate Recovery” is a 12-step Christ-based recovery program for anyone dealing with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind.
White is attending “Celebrate Recovery” leadership training at the Mount Union Christian Church in Slanesville and hopes to have the local recovery group set up at his church- the Paw Paw Church of Christ-sometime between November and January 1.
White encouraged anyone suffering from addiction, abusive relationships, bullying and other trauma that wanted to participate to attend the trainings with him to see what the program is about. The Mt. Union Christian Church recovery group has a Facebook page.
White said he wanted to let addicts and others suffering from trauma know there is another way out and to help them find a healthier way to cope. If he could help one person, it was worth it, he said.
A follow-up meeting to the Paw Paw community forum is being planned. No date has been set yet.
White said he plans to attend the next Paw Paw town council meeting on September 4 and invited other concerned community members to join him there. Paw Paw Town Council meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. at town hall.