State Director, Tennessee/Kentucky
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Julie Warren | October 6, 2017
The small town of Huntington, West Virginia is no stranger to tragedy. Every Huntingtonian remembers where they were on the evening on November 14, 1970. On that night a Southern Airways Flight carrying the entire Marshall football team, coaching staff, and a number of supporters from the Huntington community, crashed while descending into the Huntington airport. All 74 people on board perished. My mom’s best friend lost both of her parents. My grandmother, an orthodontist assistant, had to help identify victims with dental records. Many of whom were her friends.
As the shock of the tragedy gave way to daily bouts of sadness, the community had some hard decisions to make. Marshall football, while not the most prestigious program in the country, had always been a source of joy and pride, even identity, for the people of Huntington. Against all odds, Marshall University fielded a team the following year. The 1971 Marshall Thundering Herd football team, led by its new coach, Jack Lengyel, finished its season 2-8. Perhaps not an impressive record on paper, but that was never the point. That team represented the courage of Huntington, WV, and that record provided more joy than any championship parade ever could.
Huntington again finds itself amidst tragedy. The opioid crisis has ravaged this town. First responders receive at least five calls a day reporting overdoses. In one 53-hour period in August 2016, they responded to 20 overdoses. It has been reported that one out of four residents are addicted, with one out of every ten babies in Cabell Huntington Hospital being born addicted to a controlled substance, primarily heroin. For context, this is fifteen times the national average. But just like it has before, Huntington rises from the ashes. Mayor Steve Williams in many ways has assumed a similar role to that of Coach Lengyel. He has stated that “I’ve never known anything as frustrating in my life,” but that, “in the midst of that frustration, are we just going to give up? We all have had second chances in life, all of us.” Mayor Williams recently announced that Huntington received a $2 million federal grant to fund two innovative programs that are a collaborative effort with law enforcement, Marshall University, community organizations, and healthcare providers to increase access to treatment and expedite the response to overdoses.
The first program is the Quick Response Team “comprised of medical care providers, law enforcement, recovery and treatment providers, and university researchers to respond to individuals who have overdosed within 72 hours.” The second is the Turn Around program, which is “a pilot program at the Western Regional Jail to identify and assess individuals convicted of misdemeanors who have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.”
As Huntington continues to pioneer these programs, and as the impact is studied, other communities struggling to contain the opioid crisis will benefit. As Mayor Williams aptly noted, “Huntington is a proactive community that helps identify solutions related to the opioid epidemic that can be replicated across the country.” He added that, “this funding will significantly improve the collaboration, engagement, and hope necessary to overcome the epidemic.”
Huntington continues to be more than a community that survives, but one that inspires. I am proud to say that Huntington, West Virginia is my hometown, and just as proud to be an alumni of Marshall University.
Feature photo provided by Jerry and Joyce Warren.
Photos below provided by Kenna Compton.