OAK HILL, W.Va. — Around 90 residents crowded Oak Hill High School’s auditorium Thursday night for a roundtable discussion.

It was the second time the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, Health Department, Adult Drug Court and Prosecuting Attorney’s Office held the event. The first was in November at the Historic Fayette Theater in Fayetteville.

The night kicked-off with a free screening of the Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary “Heroin(e)”. The film is directed by Elaine McMillion Sheldon and filmed in Huntington.  Fayette County Sheriff Mike Fridley was impressed with the turnout.

“I think it was a good showing. 80 or 90 people that want to make a difference in our county. And this is where it starts at, getting people together and talking about the problems that we have. It’s a big step.”

After the credits rolled, Sheriff Fridley and Prosecuting Attorney Larry Harrah read recently-released statistics on drug overdoses in Fayette County and West Virginia:

  • Fayette County EMS personnel responded to 174 overdose calls in 2017.
  • Top four arrests in Fayette County: Drug-related crime, theft, domestic and DUID (Driving under the influence of Drugs).
  • Jan-Care Ambulance gave 181 doses of Naloxone in 2017 in Fayette County.
  • 881 overdose deaths in West Virginia in 2016.

Fridley and Harrah applauded recent efforts from the Fayette County Drug Court to rehabilitate drug users. They also stressed they have zero tolerance for drug dealers. Only willing drug addicts are eligible to enter the court, among other factors.

Fayette County Sheriff's Department

A flyer promoting the event.

Sheriff Fridley noted graduates of the program become productive, contributing members of society. It’s especially rewarding to him when he sees the turnaround drug court graduates make.

“I see people in the audience that stand up and say that they are recovered addicts that I’ve dealt with in the 27 years of my career. And I went up and hugged each one of them, told them ‘awesome I’m proud of you’. That’s what it’s about.”

Fayette County’s Drug Court is divided into three phases. As the year-long program comes to an end, soon-to-be graduates are required to find employment. Adult Drug Court Probation Officer Jennifer Smith said that is one of their biggest obstacles.

“What we’ve run into is employers run these criminal background checks and they see these huge rap sheets and no one wants to hire somebody based upon paper. It’s all this stigma of basing a book on the cover. We have to get past the stigma of the cover of the book.”

The roundtable portion of the program lasted roughly 90 minutes. Topics ranged from volunteer efforts, faith-based organizations and the legislature. The biggest takeaway was Prosecuting Attorney Harrah’s idea to create a community network that recovering addicts can turn to for help 24/7.

“If you provide some type of service or some type of program that tries to help with the epidemic that we’re facing, we want to connect all of those individuals together. So we can create this network of service.”

Harrah took names and contact information of several leaders of programs in attendance who are dedicated to helping with addiction recovery. He said he plans to keep in touch with those individuals and create an event at a later date.

Many agreed that it takes the entire community to help turn around the deadly drug epidemic in West Virginia.

“We do what we can, but we’ve got to have your help,” said Smith.

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