CHARLESTON W.Va. — Health care, education, and child care leaders gathered in Geary Auditorium inside Riggleman Hall at the University of Charleston for a town hall-style discussion on the opioid crisis.

The event was called “For the Sake of the Kids: Responding to the Opioid Crisis” and focused on the state’s child welfare crisis due to the opioids.

Dr. Michelle Easton, Dean of the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy, was the moderator of discussions that saw around 100 people in the auditorium and 11 speakers up on stage. One of those on stage was Dr. Cynthia Persily, CEO of Highland Hospital and Behavioral Health Services Cynthia Persily.

Persily talked about how she believes the mindset and feelings towards addiction need to change first before anything else can.

“Until we start treating addiction as a disease and not as a moral failing,” she said. “Like someone woke up today and said I am going to be an addict, we are not going to get past this issue”

“Until we get to that point of thinking addiction of a disease, treating it like a disease, I don’t think we are going to get to the point of how do we treat people and their families and keep those families together.”

Sitting to her right was Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia State Coordinator Jim McKay. He talked about how providing services for help need to change.

“Our approach to providing services is often, we see someone drowning about 15-feet offshore and we throw them 10-feet of rope,” he said. “Then we ask them to swim five feet to build character. They can’t swim that five feet. They need enough to get the connection.”

According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and a University of Charleston release about this event, West Virginia is number one in the nation in child removals from home and there has been a 46-percent increase of children in state custody in only three years, with a 22-percent increase in accepted abuse/neglect referrals to Child Protective Services. According to WVDHHR, 85-percent of open child abuse/neglect cases involve drugs.

“What drives initial usage is pain,” Bondy Gibson, Superintendent of Jefferson County Schools said. “Not necessarily physical pain, quite frankly, that is the least of it. Most of it is the lack of relationship in people’s lives. Human beings are wired from birth for connection. They seek connection with one another. When that connection isn’t made early on and it isn’t nurtured, there is such a profound lack there. They are always seeking some way to address that pain.”

The 3-hour town hall was divided into a couple of portions. The first portion was a listening module, giving attendees the time to tune in to what the experts had to say amongst themselves as they shared ideas, concerns, and offered solutions to the challenges of child care.

Others participating in the town hall were Susan Beck, Executive Director of Special Education at WVDE, Dr. Traci Acklin, MD, FAAP President of the WV Academy of Pediatrics, Jeremiah Samples, Deputy Cabinet Secretary, WVDHHR, Amy Rickman, Executive State Director, NECCO WV, Melissa Lilly, Attorney at Legal Aid of West Virginia, Dr. Larry Rhodes, MD, Director of Rural Programs at WVU School of Medicine, Dr. Carol Smith, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, CCTP Professor of Counseling at Marshall University, COEPD, and Judge William Thompson of Boone County.

The event is the last in a series of four that have been held around the state over the last two months.

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