What Huntington has learned so far from national task force addr - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

What Huntington has learned so far from national task force addressing heroin and opioid epidemic

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Mayor Steve Williams of Huntington has now been on The City-County Task Force Addressing Heroin and Opioid Abuse for more than two months. It's a national task force addressing the heroin and opioid epidemic. Huntington has one of the worst overdose rates in the nation. 

"At the age of 13 I started using drugs and alcohol and basically from that point on I used something daily," said recovering addict Mike Ferrell on when his addiction began.

His story is similar to many fighting drug abuse. He started at Recovery Point a little more than a year ago and has seen what's been happening in Huntington. 

"It's really sad, it's sad out here today. Young people dying, old people dying, it's pretty horrific," he said. 

However since the creation of the Mayor's Office of Drug Control Policy the overdose rate has slowed. In the first quarter of 2015 there were 24 overdose deaths. There were 14 in the first quarter of 2015. Director of the office Jim Johnson wishes the kind of work his crew is doing started years ago. 

"Had we looked at some of the programs 10 years ago and started, would we still have a problem here, sure, but the problem would not be as big as it is now, and I'm convinced of that," he said. 

Programs his office have been a part of implementing include the harm reduction syringe exchange program and others focused on prevention, treatment and law enforcement. 

"I'm more involved now in this than I ever would have ever dreamed two years ago, two years ago I would have thought that is a law enforcement issue," said Mayor Williams.

He says one of the biggest things the task force has done is unite different branches of the community to fight the epidemic. 

"What we found is there were a lot of good people doing good things, they just weren't connected, they were like silos, and we have been able to bring them together," said Jan Rader who works in the Mayor's Office of Drug Control Policy.

Not all of the cities or counties on the task force with Williams have an office of drug control policy like Huntington. Williams has gotten advice from counties in Kentucky and upstate New York. He says he's given advice to the mayor of Little Rock. Other places are noticing how Huntington is tackling the issue like a bigger city than it is. 

"What im hoping is that what we're starting to see here, others will be able to replicate elsewhere but I'm also seeing is that what we're doing here, that others around the nation are starting to look at us as to what we're doing," said Mayor Williams. 

After being inspired to get into recovery after holding his newborn granddaughter, and spending months mentoring others, Ferrell's last day at Recovery Point after completing the 12 step program was in the spring of 2016. 

"This is a bittersweet day, leaving here is bitter, but going on with my journey's sweet," he said moments before hugging another man going through recovery. 

Mayor Williams along with Ferrell and many others hope recovery stories like his become more of the norm. 

"You have to keep the pressure on, we have to be unrelenting on this, on a law enforcement side, but unrelenting also on trying to save peoples lives," said Mayor Williams. 

"A lot of mental emotional pain but if I can share my experience strength and hope with one person, it keeps them from going there then it's been well worth it," said Ferrell. 

Mayor Steve Williams added that another one of the biggest takeaways from the national task force is that drug addiction epidemics come in waves. He's told they come in waves every 10 to 20 years or so and that the key for not just the region but the nation is getting out ahead of the next one. 
 

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