LOGAN - West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey made his way to Logan on Tuesday, July 30, to discuss problems and solutions in the area, and meet with former addicts in a sober living home.
Morrisey's first stop was the county commission meeting room at the Logan County Courthouse, where he held a roundtable discussion with community members, local officials and law enforcement, including county commissioner Danny Ellis, Logan County Sheriff Sonya M. Dingess Porter, Logan County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Mike Mayes, Josh Murphy with the Mingo County STOP Coalition, Keith White with the Logan County Family Resource Network, LCSD Victim's Advocate Chris Trent, Logan Mayor Serafino Nolletti, and others.
The discussion began with the most obvious choice: the opioid epidemic and its effects on Logan County. Despite common criticisms regarding his past lobbying for pharmaceutical companies during his 2018 run for U.S. Senate, Morrisey was quick to laud the Attorney General's office's litigation and settlement efforts in curbing the epidemic.
"That's a big priority, because we have to attack the problem holistically, from a supply and demand, educational perspective," Morrisey said. "We've actually been out in front compared to many across the country with the settlements and the suits. We've had about $84 million in settlements so far."
Morrisey said prescriptions for pain pills are down 51% since 2013.
"That's a start. We have a lot more work to do," he said.
Morrisey also discussed other consumer-related issues, such as the AG settlement with Equifax - a security breach that he said affected more than 700,000 West Virginians, broadband expansion, scam phone calls, litigation with the Catholic Church and company mergers. He also vowed to protect gun rights and vowed to push back against the so-called war on coal.
Morrisey said his ultimate goal for the day was to listen and see what issues he can take back to Charleston.
The discussion shot back to the drug epidemic, with county administrator Rocky Adkins bringing up some statistics regarding the issue, as well as what the county spends each month on the regional jail bill - a topic that would become a common theme throughout Morrisey's visit.
"30% of our budget goes toward crimes that are being committed through the drug issues," Adkins said. "We're taking 30% of what the taxpayers are putting in and not putting it back into things that should be providing for better quality of life in our county because we're fighting this issue, and when you talk about the settlements and stuff and about what you're trying to do with it, the counties would like to be repaid for the damage we've had just because of the damage it did to our citizens at this level, not at the state level. At the state level, they can do what they want to do, but we're the ones who got the monetary damage, and we're not getting anything back from that."
"What we're gaining, basically, because of the uptick in the coal industry and on the coal severance side, we're getting hit over here on the jail bill," commissioner Ellis said. "One's devouring the other."
Sheriff Porter spoke about the overload the drug epidemic is causing on law enforcement agencies all across the state. Morrisey said he believes West Virginia needs an "enforcement surge" - especially in counties that border other states - saying that if law enforcement is "armed up" more and educated on what to look for, crime could be dampened.
The discussion then focused on better ways to keep young people in Logan County, as well as keeping them off drugs. Morrisey agreed, stating that West Virginia needs to become more competitive with other states in terms of economic opportunities.
Commissioner Ellis asked Morrisey specifically what he thinks are some things that can make southern West Virginia more attractive for economic investment. Morrisey echoed common sentiments such as physical infrastructure like road and bridge conditions, expansion of broadband Internet service, having a workforce that is drug-free, getting education statistics up, and having a good tax environment.
Following the roundtable discussions, Morrisey visited the Marjorie R. Oakley Home for Women, which is a sober living home run by the Recovery Group of Southern West Virginia. The home, which is located at 509 Main St., was the home of the late Marjorie R. Oakley, who was the wife of longtime Logan County Judge Harvey Oakley.
The home opened its doors in 2014, the same year as Oakley's death, and can house 16 women recovering from addiction at a time. The program is spiritually driven, and women from all over the state and beyond have stayed at the home.
During his visit, Morrisey spoke with each of the residents, asking them questions like how they got there and their thoughts on the home. The residents had nothing but glowing words to say about the home - and most said they preferred the recovery home approach over medication approaches like suboxone, with one resident from Marshall County describing suboxone as "like cutting yourself with a machete and taking a little Band-Aid and sticking it over top of it and saying it's fixed."
Morrisey also asked the residents about their future plans, with several saying they plan to stay in Logan because of the opportunities the area has given them as opposed to their own, while others said they plan to return home.
"There's so much involvement from people that really care for you here, and they give you the tools necessary for you to go out on your own," said a resident from Pittsburgh who has lived at the home since April 2018.
"This program is amazing, the girls are amazing, the staff is amazing," said a resident from Mingo County, who plans to return after she graduates from the program.
"There's not a lot I can't say about this program the love and the grace, just the way they push us, it's amazing, they're amazing people," said another resident from Clay County, getting slightly emotional. "Everything that they stand for, everything that they push us to do, that they tell us. I may not like it - there's been times that I've really pushed against the grain with them, but I know at the end of the day when I lay down that I know they want what's best for me and I know they want to see me be a productive member of society and really make it in life, and that means a lot to probably all of us girls."
To learn more about the Marjorie R. Oakley Home for Women, the New Beginnings Home for Men, and other services offered by the Recovery Group of Southern West Virginia, visit www.recoveryswv.org.
Dylan Vidovich is a news reporter for HD Media. Contact him by phone at 304-896-5196.