By Colleen Rowan
BRIDGEPORT—All Saints Parish in Bridgeport is continuing its public forums on West Virginia’s struggle with the opioid crisis. The parish will host its ninth Community Conversation on Substance Abuse May 21 at the parish hall from 5-6 p.m.
The gathering is free an open to the public.
Since its inception in 2016, Community Conversations at All Saints has provided a platform for experts in the field including state and local government, law enforcement, health care leaders and organizers of prevention and recovery groups. Each gathering has drawn more than 100 people from all over the region to discuss the epidemic and ways to help those suffering addiction and their families.
The latest offering is titled, “Community Conversations #9, Updates on Substance Abuse” with featured speakers Robert Hansen, executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy for West Virginia; and Brian Gallagher, RPH, JD chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Use Disorder.
“They are newly appointed with a certain vision of how the state of West Virginia should directly attack this problem,” said Ellen Condron, All Saints parish nurse and co-coordinator of Community Conversations. “They are going to give short presentations and then open it up to dialogue with the audience … for questions.”
A new topic in the series will be the hazards of marijuana use. Heidi O’Toole MS, LPC, EMDR-T, a trauma and addiction specialist and faculty member at West Virginia University who teaches addiction counselors, will discuss the effects of marijuana on the brain and the body, hazards of use, and how it is marketed to be acceptable.
“I think a lot of people think that marijuana is not that bad,” Condron said. “There are tremendous hazards to marijuana use. It is a drug, it is addictive, you develop a tolerance just like everything else. But that isn’t being talked about. It is terribly, terribly detrimental to brain development. So, when adolescents start using marijuana and using it regularly it can permanently damage their brains.” O’Toole is a member of St. Mary Parish in Star City.
The effects of the opioid crisis on children is also a focus in this segment of the series with Jennifer Randall Reyes, Ph.D., LPC, ALPS, associate professor at Prescott College, presenting “Opioids and West Virginia’s Children—the Greatest Need.” Also speaking will be a fifth-grader from a Clarksburg school sharing how her life has been affected by her father’s substance use disorder. Condron said the little girl won a speech contest with her talk.
Prior to the Community Conversation which begins at 6 p.m., a Resource Hour will be held starting at 5 p.m. in which individuals may talk one-on-one with addiction specialists.
“People can come in and have their questions answered and find information if they need help,” Condron said, emphasizing that the Resource Hour is for everyone—those suffering addiction, families of those suffering addiction, grandparents who are raising their grandchildren because of parents’ addiction, and anyone who has been affected by addiction. Some of the organizations that will have representatives available for the Resource Hour are: United Summit Center, Harrison County Probation and Juvenile Court, Children’s Mobile Crisis Unit, Right from the Start, Community Care West Virginia, Attorney General of West Virginia’s Office, Hope Incorporated, Veterans Administration Medical Center, Bridgeport High School Drug Free Club, Harrison County Prevention Dream Team, Highland Hospital, West Virginia Help Line, and many more.
With All Saints, Community Conversations is presented by the Harrison County Family Resource Network and the Harrison County Prevention Partnership. Condron said that the ninth installment will provide updated information from the last Community Conversation which was held Oct. 9.
Condron spearheaded Com-munity Conversations on Substance Abuse at her parish with the help of the parish’s Social Concerns Committee Chair- person Anna Smucker. Initially planning this to be a one-time forum in April of 2016, the program has garnered so much interest that it continues with new segments. Condron is committed to getting the necessary information and connections out there to those suffering from addiction before it’s too late.
“The number of deaths due to overdose keeps rising,” she said. “The average age of death from overdose is 42.” Great strides have been made, she said, in alleviating the problem with regard to law enforcement, treatment, education and prevention.
All Saints Parish Social Hall is located at 317 East Main Street, Bridgeport. For more information, call the parish office at (304) 842-2283.
Substance Abuse Forum May 21
By Colleen Rowan