THE ISSUE: West Virginia and Jackson County are fighting an uphill battle against a drug epidemic.
LOCAL IMPACT: County court, law enforcement, government and clergy are seeking a unified approach to the daily battle. A recent conference resulted in the creation of a subcommittee, plans for a second conference and working towards creating a faith-based mentoring program.

No one denies that the State of West Virginia is facing an uphill battle confronting the drug related issues.

 The Court, Law Enforcement and Church leaders valiantly fight this battle every day.  Sadly, those brave souls are confronted with the horrors associated with drug abuse, including seeing firsthand families that are ripped apart due to drug abuse and related crimes.  This includes the displacement of children into foster care or grandparents adopting their grandchildren.     

 Often, people struggling with drug related challenges start with their church leaders for advice, especially when a family member is arrested.  

  Due to the harsh reality of the drug epidemic, Judge Lora Dyer, Circuit Judge, and the Jackson County Ministerial Association teamed up to develop a working relationship among the Court, Law Enforcement, and the area Churches with the goal to work together to find solutions to this epidemic.   

 Judge Dyer and JCMA concluded the best starting point to foster a working relationship was to offer a conference that would provide church leaders with an overview of court processes and resources when dealing with abused and neglected children.    

 This conference also focused on educating the attendees of the various programs that may be available to help people fighting drug addiction as well as programs that would help children and others who suffer the collateral damage from drugs.  

 “Jackson County Court/Clergy Conference—Connecting Voices” was held on September 25 at the Parchment Valley Baptist Church and approximately 60 people attended comprising church leaders, law enforcement, state representatives, Superintendent of Schools, and area nonprofits that specialize in drug related issues.  

 Speakers included Judge Dyer, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, Detective Ross Mellinger, Gina Taylor from WVU Extension Services, Delegate Josh Higginbotham, Commissioner Linda Watts from the Bureau of Family and Children, Jim Johnson, Drug Czar with Department of Public Health, and Jason Quintrell, Executive Director for Union Mission.   

 Throughout the day, the Conference speakers highlighted the ugliness of the current drug situation.     

 Charles Dickens’ famous quote in the Tale of Two Cities accurately describes the current drug epidemic:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair . . .”   

 Despite the challenges, spirits remained high at the conference.   

 Judge Dyer recognized that spirit when she said “I believe in West Virginia; believe in West Virginia’s culture; and believe in the State’s strong faith based communities.”  

 Judge Dyer further explained that “my goal is never to take a child from his or her parents, and I know kids love their parents.  But sometimes people do really bad things, and that simply is not an option.”  Judge Dyer concluded by stressing the need for people to “find in their hearts to consider fostering kids because we are running out of places to put them.”   

 Detective Mellinger mirrored Judge Dyer’s comments regarding the spirit of the communities in Jackson County, but he also painted a gloomy picture by saying “drug dealers outpace what we can keep up with”.  Sadly, he told the audience driving under the influence no longer is alcohol related, instead it is meth or heroin related.   

 Other speakers highlighted the various consequences of the current epidemic.   

 For example, Senator Carmichael discussed the economic consequences and stressed how companies shy away from areas where too many workers cannot pass a drug test.  Notwithstanding these challenges, Senator Carmichael expressed optimism for the future of the State.   

 Delegate Higginbotham echoed Senator Carmichael’s optimism, and he asked the Church leaders to reach out to him with any recommendations regarding ways the State can help tackle the drug issues.

  Gina Taylor focused her speech on the effect drugs are having on grandparents who are forced to adopt their grandchildren.  Mrs. Taylor stated that the number of West Virginia grandparents who have adopted their grandchildren increased by 64% since 1990s, and West Virginia has the 4th most grandparents in the country raising their grandchildren.    

 She further explained how WVU Extension Services is trying to help these grandparents by offering free classes to those grandparents regarding programs that may benefit them and their grandchildren.    

  Commissioner Watts and Jim Johnson focused on the state wide numbers and both stressed the importance of communities working together to tackle these challenges.  The last speaker of the day was Jason Quintrell, and in many ways, he was able to paint the most positive picture because he referenced a number of success stories where people sought treatment and successfully completed drug rehabilitation.  

 With spirits high at the end of the conference, a subcommittee was formed to plan a second conference and to work towards creating a faith based mentoring program.      

  The conference ended with one question on everyone’s mind, and that is what can each of us do to make a difference?  

The late Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood recognized the need for full community involvement when he said:  “[w]e live in a world in which we need to share responsibility.  It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my problem.’  Then there are those who see the need and respond.  I consider those people my heroes.”     

  Jackson County is blessed with a lot of heroes, but the drug epidemic will take a lot more heroes to defeat this drug epidemic.   Heroes who attended the conference will not stop fighting to find solutions to this drug related epidemic.     Hopefully, a lot more heroes will join the battle.