CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — West Virginia leads the nation when it comes to the number of overdose deaths per capita. Most families in the state are impacted by addiction in some way.

But it can be overwhelming to navigate the steps between wanting help and actually getting to the right kind of treatment center. 

“I never wanted to die. I need to make that clear. A lot of people say that. They want the next shot or the next run to kill them. I never wanted to die. I just didn’t think I deserved a better life,” said Shanna Whittington.

In a few months, Whittington will celebrate seven years clean. She lost everything including her job and two of her closest friends to an overdose. She eventually hit rock bottom and knew something had to change. 

“I got to the point where I had never committed a crime for drugs. I had never done the things most women turn to for addiction and I knew all of those things were about to be a real possibility when I lost my job. So I was out of options, and I think hitting rock bottom is necessary. But we are always taught that every bottom has a trap door. You have to know when to quit digging. That was my day. I just decided that I couldn’t, anymore,” Whittington said. 

That is when she told her mom that she was ready to start the journey to recovery. At the time, she said there weren’t many resources in West Virginia. So, she received treatment in Louisville. Her mom called the Help4WV hotline to get a plan in place. 

“We’ve seen treatment expand tremendously since we started this. Beds have increased from a couple hundred to over 1,400,” said Sheila Moran at First Choice Services, the group that operates Help4WV. Call takers can get someone connected with resources often in under 24 hours. 

“We can help with barriers. Sometimes people have issues with transportation, childcare, insurance, things they need help getting through to get treatment and we can help them figure that out here,” Moran said. 

The City of Charleston has a Quick Response Team (QRT) that does something similar. It is part of the CARE Team.

They follow a national model, checking in on people after an overdose or other substance use-related incidents. Those check-ins are typically face-to-face.

The team offers several resources to people including options for getting treatment. In 2022, the team helped close to 350 people get into treatment. But that step doesn’t always happen right away.

“It is continued to follow up with individuals who are struggling in hopes to build that relationship and rapport with people so that when they are ready to receive help, they know who to call,” said Taryn Wherry, Charleston CARE Team Director.  

If someone in your life is struggling with addiction, Wherry says one of the best things you can do is go ahead and do the leg work ahead of time and have all of the information and a plan ready when they finally say they want help. 

“When your loved one says that they are ready, the window is small. So find those core people who you can call to offer assistance and have them plugged into your phone. Have that conversation already had and so that when your person is ready you know what to do.” 

The ultimate goal is to help connect a person looking for help with the right program.

Andrew Daniels is now the Development Director at Recovery Point. 11 years ago, he walked through their doors for treatment. 

“I had 133 contacts in my cell phone on the day that I went into treatment, and I wasn’t able to call one of them and ask for help. I had burnt every bridge with every person I came in contact with,” Daniels said. “I tried calling them and asking them for help. I was really looking for a way to scam them and get money. I didn’t want real help, I wanted access to staying out there longer.” 

At the time, Recovery Point only had around 20 beds and he was lucky to get one. Now, among their four locations in Huntington, Charleston, Bluefield and Parkersburg, there are close to 400 beds. But the spots are still in high demand. Recovery Point doesn’t ask anyone to pay out of pocket.

Daniels said you can help a loved one by reminding them life can be better. 

“There is hope and there are programs out there to help you. Because there was a time in my active addiction where I didn’t know there was a difference. I didn’t know there was something out there that would allow me to change. I literally remember thinking in active addiction that this is life,” Daniels said. 

Robin Wolfe struggled with addiction for 16 years. She says for the last 10 she’s been trying to get better. She’s now been clean for four years. She said her family never gave up.

“I remember my brother, he was taking me and I was like, ‘I’m never talking to you guys ever again,’ and he was like, ‘I’m ok with that if you never touch drugs again.’ And to me at the time I was like, ‘whatever,’ but like now looking back on it I mean to think that he would be willing to never talk to me again if I could just get clean,” Wolfe said.

During the pandemic, she says she was called to start the faith-based Almost Home Ministries, a long-term program to help other women beat addiction. She says true long-term recovery is complex and individuals need support with everything from getting a car and a driver’s license to learning how to budget money. 

“Success is having that consistency at work and home and being able to handle things in an independent way and not being co-dependent on other people,” Wolfe said.  

Victory looked similar to Shanna Whittington. She now has a job, has her kids and has her own place. She’s determined it is just the beginning. 

“I’m in a relationship for the first time where drugs aren’t involved. I’m a parent where drugs aren’t involved. I’m an employee. I’m a responsible member of society now and it is an everyday battle,” Whittington said.

If you would like to get help or get a plan in place for a loved one to get help, here are some additional resources. 

  • Charleston Quick Response Team – 304-962-6103
  • CARE Office – 304-881-1686
  • Help4WV – 844-435-7498
  • Recovery Point – 304-523-4673
  • Almost Home Ministries – 304-389-0805

Kanawha County has a similar service to the QRT and CARE. Their number is 304-345-2312 ext. 1113. 

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