“These are my friends.” Those are the words of Cliff Massey, a former drug user in recovery who helps overdose survivors in Fayette County.
Massey was profiled in a recent Beckley Register-Herald story about “peer recovery” services. It’s an ungainly phrase — peer recovery — for a value deeply embedded in the daily life of the Mountain State.
West Virginians helping West Virginians. Or, as the author of the story, Erin Beck, writes: “Throughout West Virginia, people in recovery from drug addiction are taking jobs to help others reach that same goal.”
West Virginians have always come together to take care of one another. This trait only underscores how out-of-touch with state values are those legislators who continually attempt to blockade progress toward comprehensive, affordable health care that meets the needs of West Virginia's families.
Massey, who had several overdoses over the years, seeks out overdose survivors at Oak Hill’s Plateau Medical Center. Out of ten people he might encounter, he may personally know more than half of them, he told Beck. “It’s like a flashback. I can remember just being helpless and not knowing what to do.”
So, says Massey, “I show up.”
West Virginia is the epicenter of the addiction crisis engulfing America with the highest drug overdose death rate in the country since 2010.
It’s hard to find a family or friend whose own life or the life of another family member or friend has not been touched by this crisis.
Years ago, when evidence of this crisis first began to surface, it may have seemed like a problem only affecting a handful of hard-core drug users and losers. But as addiction, overdoses and deaths began to overturn the lives of families of all sorts across the state, it became clear this was a shared crisis.
So, Beck’s story is heartening in its portrayal of West Virginians aiding West Virginians. She details the increasing growth of peer recovery programs across the state.
It is easy to feel despair in the face of the scourge of this crisis. And to be disheartened by politicians who seem to have the interests of drug companies more on their mind than those of average West Virginians who are trying to heal their families and keep them healthy.
So, it is important to showcase — and to fund and grow — those programs that make a difference in bringing increasing numbers of West Virginians into recovery, for the sake of all the families who call the Mountain State home:
Allison Adler, spokeswoman for DHHR, said DHHR, through West Virginia University, is funding peer support workers in emergency rooms at Pleasant Valley Hospital in Mason County, Plateau Medical Center in Fayette County, WVU Medicine – Camden Clark Medical Center in Wood County, and WVU Medicine – United Hospital Center in Harrison County.
"The Bureau for Behavioral Health is embracing peers," she wrote in an email. "As a result, these crucial workers are interwoven into many different programs and initiatives. This makes it harder to define how many individuals are funded, but we currently fund 45 partners across the state to support the work of peer recovery specialists.
"In 2018, more than 2,300 individuals were served by peers through our programs," she said. "At last count, Medicaid has approved 153 Peer Recovery Support Specialists to provide services."