These towns were ‘ground zero’ in America’s opioid crisis – now they’re fighting back
Jun 22, 2021 3 mins, 4 secs
The everyday people who decided enough was enough.

A little over a year ago, the small church house that pastor Daniel Adkins serves in the rural town of East Lynn, in the far west of West Virginia, was overrun.

People were living in the gap underneath the building, others in a separate room out back.

“We went there to run them off,” says Adkins, a bearded, soft-spoken 43-year-old.

After that encounter, Adkins began holding twice-weekly recovery meetings in the church.

He has seen others fall deeper into addiction and die.

His small group is one of dozens of community-led efforts that have emerged to deal with the long-running opioid crisis in West Virginia, a state at the epicentre of the nationwide epidemic.

The opioid crisis began in the 1990s with the release of powerful new prescription drugs to treat chronic pain.

The city of Huntington, less than an hour’s drive away from Adkins’ church, was often described as “ground zero” of the opioid crisis.

A recovery meeting at Daniel Adkins’ church in East Lynn, West Virginia.

In East Lynn, Adkins begins his meeting just as dusk draws in.

She was living in this room in the depths of addiction.

The road to recovery can seem near impossible sometimes, too, he says.

There are many kinds of recovery meetings, and many rehabilitation programmes across the state.

But even the best programmes have gaps between them – and there are a thousand different ways in which someone in recovery can lose their footing and fall back into addiction.

When the meetings first started, he says he had to go out and round people up to get them to attend.

“They kinda gave me a crash course in addiction recovery meetings.

Alex Davis, 27, sits alongside pastor Daniel Adkins.

I met Daniel and he was trying to run these meetings.

The only place they had to go was the trap houses where he’d done his dope before he went to jail,” Adkins says.

That addiction would last for more than a decade.

“It’s sensible, individualised treatment,” he says as he sits in a side office on the ground floor of the Huntington Addiction Wellness Center.

Craig Hettlinger outside the Huntington Addiction Wellness Center, which he founded after recovering from addiction?

It is another example of West Virginians responding to the opioid crisis.

“There’s no question Huntington’s ‘ground zero’ for drug addiction and the epidemic, but there’s also no question that it’s a ‘ground zero’ for the solution,” says Hettlinger.

“We have recovery programmes that are absolutely fantastic, that people come here from all over the country to get help.

So it started this whole conversation on Facebook that led to a group of people getting together to talk about what’s going on.”.

“There were people in the group who had a child who had overdosed and died.

And then there were some people in the group who’ve been victims of crime, their home had been broken into multiple times.

From then on, she says, the crisis in Huntington became less “us” versus “them”, less a battle between addicts and everyone else, and more a community pulling together.

West Virginia had been making small gains in the fight against the opioid epidemic when the coronavirus pandemic arrived

“Some of those who joined a while back are becoming a big part of our recovery meetings

I see that too, that maybe the help is going to come from inside the group,” says Adkins

A recovery meeting at Daniel Adkins’ church in East Lynn, West Virginia

Alex Davis, 27, sits alongside pastor Daniel Adkins

Craig Hettlinger outside the Huntington Addiction Wellness Center, which he founded after recovering from addiction


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