In the heart of the opioid crisis, a compassionate approach to treatment is saving lives.

One West Virginia city has lost so much in the opioid epidemic — but the tide may be turning.

West Virginia suffers from the highest rate of fatal overdoses in America. And Huntington, West Virginia, is often referred to as the epicenter of the opioid epidemic. In December 2017, the state's governor called in the National Guard to help address the crisis, declaring, "We have to stop this terrible drug epidemic. We have to. If we don't, it will cannibalize us."

A new program is helping: In Huntington, city officials are finding success with the new Quick Response Team (QRT) program that follows up with overdose survivors within 72 hours of their ODs to help ensure they get the necessary help. The teams include a police officer, a paramedic, and — perhaps most importantly — a mental health specialist.


Advocates of the new approach say having these teams arrive to offer compassion, instead of just the punitive threat of law enforcement, is building trust and a solutions-based approach between officials and those struggling with addiction.

"For so many years, we didn't see the patients being receptive," said Connie Priddy, a coordinator with the program. "And now, because we're working on changing how we approach it, their way of accepting us has changed."

The numbers speak for themselves: Since the program started, Huntington has seen its repeat overdose statistics cut in half. It's such an impressive feat that other cities in the state are about to test out their own versions of the program.

A resident in a Huntington, West Virginia, halfway house who is receiving treatment after a heroin overdose, Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images.

Huntington's approach to drug overdoses is having a ripple effect.

The state government has taken notice of Huntington's success story. In December 2017, they approved a four-year pilot program with a grant of $10 million to expand the services to other cities in the state. $1 million of that has gone toward purchasing and distributing naloxone, which treats narcotic overdose, to first responders statewide.

"The ultimate priority of this legislation … is to engage individuals with treatment options at every opportunity thereby reducing future overdoses," said Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch.

It could expand to the federal level as well. In May, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams visited Huntington and praised the program. "I came to Huntington because it's one of the best stories in the United States in terms of recovery," he said. "If we can turn around overdose numbers here, we can do it anywhere."

Addiction is a complex challenge, but it's also a very human one.

There's no one solution to preventing and treating addiction. Education, mental health health care, and even exercise can all play vital roles.

The compassion shown by the quick response teams in Huntington is building trust between law enforcement officials and those at risk. West Virginia's health commission has acknowledged that preventing and treating addiction is challenging.

Getting people into treatment gives both sides a better chance to overcome the many aspects of addiction. It's more effective and less expensive than simply punishing people.

And until the opioid crisis is solved, cities across the country need all the help they can get.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
True

This story was originally shared on Capital One.

Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.

"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.

While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.

Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.

La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.

That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.

Keep Reading Show less

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."