December 15, 2017

In search of sobriety in the heart of Trump country

In late October, President Trump declared a public health emergency to combat America’s drug crisis. Among other things, Trump’s declaration directs federal agencies to provide more money to fight the epidemic and ends bureaucratic delays in the dispensing of grants.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death of Americans under age 50. Public health experts estimate that the epidemic could kill more than half a million people over the next decade.

Two hours west from Washington lies West Virginia, which is often referred to as ground zero of the opioid epidemic. Its overdose rate is double the national average, and by far the highest of any state.

In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump won Grant County, W. Va., with 88 percent of the vote, one of Trump’s highest vote totals in the country. Grant County, and its only city, Petersburg, have been particularly hard hit by the drug epidemic.

Judy’s Pharmacy, on Main Street, was sued last year by the state’s attorney general for selling too many prescription painkillers. The lawsuit alleges that over a six-year period the drug store sold more than 1.8 million doses of addictive opioids that had no medical purpose.

Brenda Sams, who lives and works just a few steps from Judy’s, talked about how after becoming an addict, she was convicted of conspiracy to distribute drugs and sent to prison. With her parents looking on, Brenda she also talked about getting clean and how her life has transformed in the last two years.

Later, driving around Petersburg, Brenda pointed out some of her old haunts—including the house where she tried heroin for the first time and the place where she caught her federal charge.

Brian Ward, sheriff of nearby Hardy County, said he doesn’t know a family in the county that hasn’t been directly affected by the drug epidemic. And Cindy Corbin, executive director of Hampshire County Pathways, a recovery center for people with substance abuse and mental health disorders, talked about the rise in the need for her organization’s services. Corbin used to place someone in treatment every other month. Now she places at least 12 or 13 people a month.

Brenda understands the crucial role that her parents’ love and support are playing in her recovery. The question is, how will the hundreds of thousands of others who don’t have that support, in Petersburg and across the county, rise above addiction, avert death and find the help they need.

This video was originally featured as a part of the Washington Examiner’s series The Race To 2020: The people and places that will define a presidency. You can read more here.

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