MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Highland-Clarksburg Hospital, and WVU Medicine are among the panelists who will speak about rural opioid addiction Monday night in Morgantown.

Although he won’t be able to attend, Congressman David McKinley (R-WV, 1) helped organize the forum at University High School, which runs from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“Once somebody has become addicted, that hijacks the higher levels of brain functioning that people continue to engage in these behaviors that they know are bad for them,” Dr. James Berry of WVU Medicine said on MetroNews “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval.

Berry said his role tonight is to help people understand that disease actually is a disease — one that is treatable, though with some challenges.

“I hope to share my experience in treating folks who are suffering from the disease of addiction,” he said. “I hope to communicate that addiction truly is a chronic brain disease that has a number of factors that go into the development and maintenance of this disease.”

“But even more so than that, is to help people understand that treatment works.”

Though abusing a substance — any substance — may begin as a choice, Dr. Berry said it never ends that way.

“Certainly when someone starts using, that’s a different story,” he said. “But once they’ve been using for a while, it’s incredibly, incredibly difficult. There are powerful forces at work, both biologically, socially, and psychologically that keep people using — despite the fact that they don’t want to and despite the fact that they know it’s causing them harm.”

He also plans to highlight the societal forces that keep people abusing opioids.

“That, of course, is the reality for most of our community members,” Berry said. “They may go to a hospital setting — whether it’s a short-term hospital setting or a long-term 28 day program — but then they have to go right back into the same social living that they were in before. You can imagine that many of their family members and friends are still using.”

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing with the federal agencies charged with overseeing efforts to combat the opioid crisis. Rep. McKinley has stated his desire to see these hearings recreated at a local level for public benefit.

McKinley is remaining in D.C. as part of the ongoing debate and negotiations over the Tax Reform package, which will require a Conference Committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions.

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