March 26, 2017

More treatment centers a must to save lives | Huntington Herald Dispatch

It was Aug. 15, 2016, and 28 people overdosed within a five hour span in Huntington. The first person to overdose was a young lady named Taylor Leigh Wilson. It was her third overdose and Taylor and her family decided it was time to try treatment.

Leigh Ann and John Wilson, Taylor's mother and father, knew they had no choice but to sign a mental hygiene order, which committed Taylor to Highland Medical Center. But even that had its limits. The order used was to hold someone up to 28 days, but the intake psychiatrist decided that Taylor would only be detoxed and did not need to remain for inpatient treatment, much to Leigh Ann and John's dismay. They recommended intensive outpatient treatment and when she was released, Taylor started an intense regiment with her primary care doctor, psychiatrist and psychologist and an intense regiment of NA meetings.

Leigh Ann and John knew she needed an inpatient program, but quickly found there was nowhere to go. Leigh Ann drove door to door in search of an open bed, calling centers in the Tri-State area to see if they would accept Taylor and each time got turned away, or put on a long waiting list. After more than 40 days of searching for an open bed and a safe place that accepted their insurance, they finally got a call. Taylor had been accepted into the suboxone program at Prestera Center.

The only problem was that Taylor had passed away three days earlier from an overdose.

For the past year, every week I have gone to the Senate floor to read these heartbreaking stories. I read a letter from Leigh Ann on the Senate floor to show my colleagues that this epidemic is not just about statistics; it's about this family that lost their daughter.

Taylor was one of West Virginia's most promising young people. She was a former Girl Scout, graduated from Cabell Midland High School, and was a bright student at Marshall University. Taylor's favorite hobby was reading, and she was working toward becoming a librarian. Unfortunately, addiction slowly tore down everything that Taylor had built. And despite her willingness and effort to find treatment, she still could not get the help she so desperately needed.

Taylor's struggle to find treatment is not unique; it is all too common. This is happening throughout West Virginia and all across our country. Between 2009 and 2013, only 22 percent of Americans suffering from opioid addiction participated in any form of addiction treatment. In our state, 42,000 people, including 4,000 adolescents, sought treatment for illegal drug use but failed to receive it.

Amid this opioid crisis that is ravaging our nation we are facing yet another obstacle - making sure everyone who wants treatment, gets it. It's the only way we're going to win this fight. It's why I introduced the LifeBOAT Act, which will provide a steady, sustainable stream of funding to expand access to substance abuse treatment. This means more beds and staff at treatment centers. This means increased education on the dangers of opioid abuse. This means fewer Americans, fewer West Virginians and fewer Cabell County natives will be lost to this terrible epidemic.

Huntington is the epicenter of this horrible crisis but it is also on the front lines in combating this epidemic from all sides. The city and citizens have come together to support programs that save lives and help people get the treatment that they need. The city has implemented a drug court, developed a harm reduction program, and sought to ensure that first responders have the naloxone they need to save lives. Marshall University has announced the creation of a new position and an interdisciplinary coalition to address the opioid crisis, Recovery Point has helped addicts overcome their addiction, and Lily's Place has provided critical care to babies born addicted to opioids. These are just a few of the organizations doing amazing work in this city.

We all know someone, whether it's a friend or a family member, who has been touched by the opioid epidemic. But we keep it quiet because it's seen as embarrassing. We don't want anyone to know that something failed them and they turned to drugs. We must break that stigma and that is why I am so honored to share these stories. Because as people come forward we grow stronger.

Leigh Ann did everything she could to get her daughter into a facility to save her life, but there simply were not enough facilities. I can tell you that mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters are in the same exact boat as Leigh Ann and John. I've been told by my colleagues that they can't vote for the LifeBOAT Act because they think it's a tax. I tell them to go back to their state and tell a family that you could have voted to save their family member that's struggling with addiction but instead chose to save pharmaceutical companies one cent. I am asking for one penny to save thousands in America and to end the epidemic once and for all.