2017-07-12 / Opinions

A decade of failure, a new mission

The New Yorker magazine last month published an extensive and in-depth article. “The Addicts Next Door” about the opioid and heroin crisis, as it unfurls in the daily lives of people in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Author Margaret Talbot centered the story in Martinsburg, but brought in mentions of Berkeley Springs and Hedgesville as part of the orbit of daily overdoses and the grueling realities of addiction inside families.

Talbot lays out, in the article, a kind of map that shows how many of our neighbors and family members became addicts, how many have died or nearly died from overdoses and how families have had to absorb the pain and shock of those realities. She follows the first responders who revive people who have overdosed, and try to help them survive addiction.

Ten years ago, this editor wrote a multi-part series in this paper about the growing heroin problem here. Local law enforcement and mental health experts said then that the lack of drug treatment facilities in West Virginia was a serious problem and had to be solved.

It wasn’t.

West Virginia hasn’t solved that problem and Morgan County hasn’t solved that problem.

In the decade since, overdose calls have grown to a weekly occurrence, and deaths to a monthly reality. Crimes here are nearly always tied to drug activity. More and more of our local kids are growing up without their parents at the helm of the family. Mom or Dad or both are gone – in jail, separated by Child Protective Services due to neglect or abuse, dead, lost to heroin or pills. Grandparents, family friends, aunts and uncles are trying to raise those children orphaned by addiction. A few families will be reunited after Mom or Dad get treatment for their drug habits or get out of jail. Many more won’t.

Teachers and school officials know this reality and deal with it daily. They doggedly try to give our children what they need and deserve – a safe place with regular food, rules, adults they can trust and skills to grow up.

Schools, law enforcement, government officials, public service agencies.community groups and individuals who have joined together in various local efforts also hammer away at what we CAN do. They build up programs that strengthen our kids inside and out. Coaches, community and church groups and youth clubs all make the same effort.

Kids have to see something they want out of life in order to pass up the short-term highs of alcohol and drugs. They already see, sometimes in very close quarters, what the life of an addict looks like. We can’t let that be the idea of “normal” here. Our challenge, as people who love our community, is to show young ones that a much better life is possible.

One step to meet that challenge is actually quite simple: We have to be the daily examples of functional, healthy adults.

Each of us, in whatever way we can, must display our choice to work hard, earn an honest wage, lend a hand to each other, resolve disagreements, play together, take care of our bodies, feed our spirits and deal with life’s frustrations in a healthy way. In the old days, it was called “setting a good example.”

However naïve and simple this sounds, this is our community’s challenge. The stakes are higher than ever.

Those in the grips of heroin and pills must struggle with those demons, often with their families at their side. We have failed to give them the weapons they need to win that fight, but some succeed anyway. Others don’t.

While that fight is underway, Morgan County has to show the next generation how to grow up. We have to show kids how to build a life, where to find help when times are tough and where to find true joys that will sustain them. That’s something we CAN do.

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