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Putnam commission sponsors drug treatment beds

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Facing the largest jail bill the county has ever seen, Putnam County commissioners voted Tuesday to contract with a nonprofit group to treat what the county prosecutor sees as the primary problem -- drug addiction.

"The frustration is that, if we can't provide treatment for them, we're going to end up recycling people with addiction in our jails and in our prison system," Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia said Tuesday.

The commission will sponsor two beds for Putnam County residents at The Healing Place of Huntington, a long-term residential treatment facility for men in neighboring Cabell County.

Scott Adkins, a Teays Valley resident and the new executive director of the Healing Place, said the facility encourages accountability and family responsibility. Founded in 2011, the program has graduated 65 men, and more than 45 have been completely sober one year post-treatment, he said.

"We do a lot of life skills training, so that men learn to be good dads and to be good husbands. We do job placement activities, we work with the Workforce Investment Board in the regions from which they come," Adkins said. "We try to treat the whole person; we don't want to send them back to the same environment without any hope or skills."

The number of felony prosecutions in Putnam County has risen roughly 20 percent since 2010, and the county's juvenile prosecutions are up 25 percent, Sorsaia told the Gazette in July. The jail bill has also steadily risen, from $1.1 million two years ago to $1.4 million last year, and now, to $1.7 million.

According to Sorsaia, the vast majority of the cases he prosecutes are drug-related. At the unveiling of the Putnam County Sheriff's Department prescription drug drop box in October, Sheriff Steve Deweese estimated roughly 85 percent of the crimes committed in the county were drug-related.

"It's obvious to me that this 'phenomenon' with the jail bill is driven by addiction," Sorsaia said. "We are struggling with it every day."

Sorsaia has already held a meeting with one church in Teays Valley and said he intends to contact the Teays Valley Ministerial Association and other churches to explore the possibility of sponsoring additional beds through private partnership. It costs $32.50 per day to pay for one participant, and the total cost to the county for sponsoring two for a year will amount to $23,600.

"I know from personal experience and as a prosecutor how much anguish and frustration there is in our community with addiction," he said. "Unfortunately, almost every family is touched by addiction."

The Healing Place of Huntington was modeled after the original Healing Place in Louisville, Ky., and is a six- to nine-month treatment center, based on the 12 steps of recovery. According to Adkins, the young facility so far has seen a success rate at five times the national average.

Matt Boggs, coordinator for the Healing Place of Huntington, said he can attest to the effectiveness of the program first hand. Boggs is one of its first graduates and has been sober for two years.

"It's amazing what I get to do today; I get to go out and promote the place that helped save my life," Boggs said. "I think that Putnam County, moving forward with this, is really going to set a precedent for other counties, because if we can't get something on the state level, we must take care of it on a county level."

According to Boggs, there 350 long-term beds in drug treatment facilities across the state -- a number he said is startling in light of the rate of addiction and drug overdose in West Virginia. He said roughly 20 percent of those treated by the agency are already Putnam County residents.

The commission was also approached by members of the West Virginia Farm Bureau and the state's Humane Society Tuesday morning, and has agreed to address the possibility of creating livestock standards for the community to avoid cases of long-term neglect.

Summer Wyatt, state director of the Humane Society, said she would like to see the county create a set of guidelines for employees dealing with animals that will help them better evaluate the condition of cows, horses, sheep and other livestock animals.

"We wanted to just bring up this idea to create a protocol for livestock standards, because in Putnam County, you're lucky enough to have a livestock standards board to help animal control and law enforcement, or even individuals who may have livestock but aren't caring for them properly," Wyatt said.

Last month, four horses were seized from a farm in Buffalo after Putnam sheriff's deputies and animal control responded to calls from concerned neighbors. A veterinarian called the four animals "severely malnourished," and Jon and Gail Cobb of Custer Ridge Road were charged with one count each of animal cruelty.

Terry Dunn, a board member for the Farm Bureau and now the caretaker of one of the rescued horses, said there needs to be greater understanding for the general public in order to avoid more situations like the Buffalo neglect case.

"There are a lot of people who, for lack of a better word, don't understand. Some of these folks, they don't intentionally starve their horses or their cattle -- in their mind, they love these animals," she said. "You and I can look at a horse, and its backbone is sticking up and its tips are sticking out, and think, 'that horse is starved,' but for some reason, these folks can't grasp that."

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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