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Drug Treatment Facilities Fall Behind

  When someone becomes addicted the first step toward battling that addiction is treatment and sometimes that treatment is in the form of a rehab facility.

Matt Boggs started abusing narcotics at age 14. A native of Ashland, Kentucky, he bounced around from rehab facility to rehab facility starting in 2002 with a visit to the Betty Ford Center, an inpatient addiction treatment center in southern California. It took him ten years, but Boggs finally got sober in 2012 and says he hasn’t had a drink or touched drugs in three years.

Now, Boggs works as the Director of Development at Recovery Point, formerly the Healing Place of Huntington. It’s a long-term residential addiction treatment center, a part of the recovery process Boggs said is crucial.  

According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, there are a total of 403 publicly funded substance abuse treatment beds in the state. About 140 of those are detox beds, places where addicts may spend 5 to 7 days working a drug out of their systems. About 260 are residential beds, or in facilities that offer more long-term treatment that could last 3 to 6 months.

Those numbers don’t include beds like the ones at Recovery Point, though, beds at private treatment centers with non-medical detoxification and recovery services. The DHHR says there are about 140 of those privately funded beds in West Virginia. Bringing the total to just less than 550 spots statewide.

Waiting lists are common in a state that’s struggling to keep up with demand. Joseph Garcia is GovernorTomblin’sdirector of legislative affairs. He said whenTomblintook office in 2010, he began prioritizing issues related to substance abuse. According to Garcia the number one priority is more beds and facilities. He says there has been $5 million in the governor's budget since 2012 to attempt to increase those services.

Part of that funding has come from a savings on incarcerations. In 2012, GovernorTomblintook on an initiative with the National Council of State Legislatures meant to curb the state’s prison overcrowding problem. After working with a number of other states on the same issue, theNCSLrecognized an increased number of inmates were being incarcerated across the country as a result of addiction. Judge Jennifer Bailey is a circuit court judge inKanawhaCounty. She says the incarceration wasn't accompanied by treatment, which ultimately led toreoffendingafter release and more prison time, which means more tax money.

Tomblin worked with the NCSL to write the Justice Reinvestment Act, approved in 2013. The Act reduced prison sentences for minor drug crimes and put more funding into community based treatment programs and since, the state has seen a continuous drop in its prison population.

Tim Armstead is the Speaker of the House, but was serving as House Minority Leader at the time. He says the bill was missing a crucial component.

It would take an estimated $20 million to build a new inpatient drug treatment facility in West Virginia, but the bill didn’t commit any money for construction.

This year lawmakers attempted to secure that $20 million through an increase of the state’s cigarette tax. The initiative failed. So, for now at least, it looks as if it will be up to nonprofits and charitable organizations across the state to meet the need. And they’ve already gotten to work.

Since opening as the Healing Place in January of 2011, former addict Matt Boggs’ Recovery Point has grown from around 20 beds to nearly 100 at its Huntington location. The facility is now looking to expand, opening a 60-bed all male facility in Mercer County. It has also received funding to develop a facility for women in Kanawha County with 60 to 100 beds and its administrators are looking for opportunities in Martinsburg.

And to fill in the gaps, outpatient therapy centers like HER Place are opening. Of the 550 treatment beds in the state, only 90 of those are committed to women. HER Place in Huntington provides education and peer support to women who find themselves on waiting lists for those beds. Margaret Van Zandt is its executive director.

Van Zandt said they’re also working to open a second location in Charleston. While access is spreading, experts in the field say it’s not yet keeping up with the demand. Some even say inpatient beds are not the answer for all addicts. Still, they’re working together to find answers to West Virginia’s addiction problem and ways to fund those answers into the future.

Copyright 2015 West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Clark Davis
West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Clark Davis can be heard throughout the week on West Virginia Morning at 7:30am during NPR's Morning Edition.