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Rockefeller, Rahall talk substance abuse

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Substance abuse is the biggest problem the United States faces and it has no single solution, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Thursday.

"It's the kind of problem that will never go away," Rockefeller said. "There's no single solution; it's just doing all kinds of things at once."

Rockefeller, along with Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. and Gil Kerlikowske, the White House's director of drug control policy, spoke Tuesday afternoon at a roundtable discussion about the issue at the University of Charleston's pharmacy school.

The senator held a similar roundtable discussion in Huntington earlier Thursday.

Rockefeller co-sponsors two pieces of substance abuse-related legislation.

The Excellence in Mental Health Act would help modernize and build behavioral-health center facilities to provide mental health and substance abuse services. The Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act would, among other things, require quality standards for substance abuse treatment services.

Rahall said substance abuse is a challenging issue that affects the economy and people of all walks of life and political party.

"It's something we all have to be in on together," Rahall said.

During the discussion, Rockefeller, Rahall and Kerlikowske met with law enforcement officials, health-care professionals, advocates and community members from around the state, hearing their stories about substance abuse.

Crystal Weiss Omregcik of Wheeling said she first knew her son had a substance abuse problem when officials at his middle school called her in for a meeting. His addiction to "anything he got his hands on" affected his education and family life, she said.

When he was 18, she finally had him arrested, although besides his drug abuse he was not committing crimes, Omregcik said.

"That was the only way I could get my son to this point," she said.

Omregcik's son eventually went to a dual-diagnosis treatment center for the better part of a year, she said. He now works as a carpenter and is "doing fabulous," she said.

Another mother, Nancy Fry, said her son had a substance abuse problem for 12 years. His struggle included threats of suicide and being stabbed because of a drug debt, she said.

After treatment, he's clean now, she said.

Rockefeller said he wants to hear from those with personal stories of substance abuse about what more officials can do.

"I want to hear them talk about it -- what was missing for them and what they needed but couldn't get it," Rockefeller said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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