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Heroin use rising in state, U.S. attorney says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More addicts are turning to heroin when prescription pills become too expensive or too hard to find, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Wednesday night.

That has lead to a surge in heroin abuse that some fear might become a full-blown epidemic.

On Wednesday night, Goodwin brought together a panel of medical professionals, law enforcement officers and state legislators at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse to address the rising heroin problem.

The 13-person panel provided each other with information about effective heroin addiction treatments and strategies. They largely agreed that education and treatment are the most effective ways to deal with the problem.

West Virginia has an opportunity to lead education and treatment efforts before heroin abuse becomes too widespread to control, Goodwin said.

"There is a great need here," he said.

Goodwin began noticing an increase in heroin abuse after spending many years going after the prescription pill trade. More people turned to heroin as prescription pills cleared off the streets, he said.

One of the largest downfalls of heroin abuse is an increased risk of overdoses, said Gordon Merry, director of Cabell County Emergency Medical Services.

Heroin is often made with varying forms of potency and makeup, which increases risk of overdose and death, he said.

Cabell County is among the hardest counties hit by heroin abuse. Doctors can tell when a new batch of heroin has hit the county by the number of reported overdoses, Merry said. He touted the use of Naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of overdose.

Peer-to-peer treatment programs often eliminate the stigma of asking for help with an addiction problem, said Matt Boggs, director of the Healing Place in Huntington.

There are a wide variety of addiction programs that often come at little or no cost, said Kathy Paxton, director of the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse of the State Department of Health and Human Resources. Paxton said her organization is making an effort to better advertise these programs.

The heroin problem is not localized to any particular area, West Virginia State Police Capt. Tim Beldsoe said. People in more isolated areas are also using heroin at an increasing rate.

Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook said the problem would require collaboration from everyone.

"We can't arrest our way out of the problem," Holbrook said.

Goodwin said he hopes to "engage the whole community" in the discussion on heroin abuse going forward.

"We need to figure out a way to get a person the help they need," he said.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.

 


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