HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — For as many times as Huntington has been pushed into the national spotlight, this past Wednesday was one of the first and few times those on the local front lines have heard their stories told in a positive light on a grand scale.
Broadcasting live from Pullman Square to classrooms and computers across the nation, Discovery Education filmed the latest episode in its “Operation Prevention” series with Huntington’s own boots on the ground telling the world their stories, needs and successes as experienced daily in the wake of the opioid epidemic — Huntington having been proclaimed not only its ground zero, but now a model community for addiction recovery.
“For the first time, it feels like someone is trying to tell the positive. You have media come in and they talk about 27 people overdosed in one day, and that makes headlines,” said Michelle Perdue, director for the Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership. “It’s heartbreaking for us and it’s hard to wrap your brain around it, but to start focusing on the positive is tremendous.”
Created as a “virtual field trip” for school-aged students tuning in, the 45-minute live show was structured with live sit-down, talk show-style discussion by the leaders in the city’s recovery effort with intermittent vignettes highlighting local stories of those overcoming addiction either in themselves or in those around them.
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The broadcast is the second in Discovery Education’s “Operation Prevention” series, which began in 2016 in partnership with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to take a fact-centered approach to teaching substance abuse prevention in schools. Unlike the past “scared straight” methods, “Operation Prevention” provides students facts about opioids so students can understand what exactly the drugs do to their bodies.
“If we wait to start talking to kids when they hit high school, we’ve lost the prime time of getting to them before they start experimenting with tobacco, drugs and alcohol,” said Tim White, regional prevention coordinator for the Prestera Center who helped facilitate the broadcast’s arrival in Huntington. “We certainly believe that prevention is the cutting edge and that’s what we need to be doing.”
Last year’s live broadcast of the annual series focused on the science of addiction, with doctors and health professionals demonstrating the impact of drug use on the brain and body. Lauren DeNu, Discovery Education program director, said a desire to step away from a textbook teaching of addiction to exploring real-life stories drew Discovery Education to Huntington for this year’s show.
Interviewed alongside Perdue were Deidre Beckett, a Master of Social Work student at Marshall University, and Cassie Chapman, a substance abuse counselor, who shared their stories of being in long-term addiction recovery. Beckett added it was unfortunate it took an epidemic to shine a light on the positive impact of those spending their lives to undo the damage.
“They talk about the epidemic here, but they don’t talk about the recovery,” she said. “There are a lot of services in such a small town for people to get help, so I think we’re combating it the best we can compared to other areas. For me, I’d not rather be anywhere else.”
Being broadcast in a positive light has the power to not only begin changing the nationwide perception of Huntington as the once-proclaimed “overdose capital of America,” Chapman added, but also help alleviate the remaining stigma attached to addiction.
“The perception that everybody here uses just isn’t true,” she said. “There is a big problem here and we don’t want to gloss it over, but if all we hear is negative, it makes it seem very hopeless.”
Herself the subject of the acclaimed Netflix documentary “Heroin(e),” Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader said much of the attention drawn to Huntington stems from the community’s reaction in owning up to the problem, rather than trying to bury it. Discovery Education’s broadcast, focused heavily on the city’s tactics in addiction recovery, was a positive change of the pace from the overdose horror stories the national media often comes to town seeking, she added.
“We’re going to be defined by how we deal with this, not by the problem itself,” Rader said. “The problem is everywhere; we just get a bad rep because we own the problems.”
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com