by David Williams, HNN Freelance Correspondent, Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
Huntington Citizens Help Their City Rise Above the Drug Epidemic
Photo David Williams

In the last few years Huntington, WV residents became painfully aware that their city was mired in a drug epidemic as the sound of ambulances filled the air, people under the influence of drugs passed out on street corners and in restaurant and convenience store restrooms, needles littered sidewalks and playgrounds, drug-related violence esculated, break-ins and robberies climbed, and friends and loved ones died from overdoses.

The country and world became aware of Huntington's drug problem as HBO's documentary Vice dubbed Huntington "the heroin capital.". Fueled by a night of twenty-six overdoses in one evening; CNN, BBC, NPR, and other news outlets came to Huntington to make the world aware of our problem. NETFLIX crafted a highly regarded documentary on the epidemic. 

As the awareness increased, the federal, state, and local governments stepped up their efforts to fight the epidemic. As drug-related violence increased the West Virginia State Patrol and National Guard came to our city.

Treatment centers like Prestera and Recovery Point were filled to capacity and waiting lists formed. People addicted to drugs were literally dying waiting on a bed.

The amazing thing and a show of Huntington's heart is the way individuals have come forth and given great amounts of effort to bring our city back together. They have worked both ends of the drug equation - supply and demand - to help fix our problems. They have helped spread awareness of the drug problem, raised money to fight addiction, assisted police with information of drug dealers, help feed the hungry, collect clothing for the homeless, and even organize community cleanups. It is not possible to list all of the amazing efforts by the individuals in the area, but I will showcase some of the acts of kindness.

The Heart of The Heroes

Sharon Setliff is a nurse by day, a job that save lives and helps people daily. When not at work, Sharon becomes the leader of the Find the Hero in You. Here is Sharon's story.

Huntington Citizens Help Their City Rise Above the Drug Epidemic

"When I started the group Find the HERO in YOU, it was intended to be one single page to honor my beautiful daughter. She had been put down enough in her lifetime. She just couldn't see the good in herself like so many others did. She died of a heroin overdose in September 2016. A towel thrown over her face and someone ran leaving her alone to die. An image that will haunt me the rest of my life.


What started as one page , to my amazement has surpassed 13,000 members from all over the world that have come together for all sorts of reasons. Some are clean, thank God, some are struggling to begin sobriety, some are users searching, some are here to be educated. Many don't understand! I'm learning everyday! I want us to be a group that all people search for. Somewhere to feel glad that they came. Many are parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and friends of loved ones that have already passed on.

This group is full of why's? Why my child? Why my brother? And we don't have answers to that. But what this group will do is offer encouragement. Offer a hand to lift you up Whatever you are struggling with - there is someone in this group that has been where you are, truly caring people that want to help make a difference. We find recovery for those that are sick and tired of it all, almost daily. Someone is available in our administrative staff 24/7 .

There are beds available somewhere . You just dont stop until you find one when a life is at stake. We hate the drug , we love the addict as God does.

Our Administrators are: Sharon Baumgardner Setliff Jenny Willis Erwin, Susan Mays, Gala Pack, Tina Miller, Nancy Marlow, Jonathon Weirich, Jared Casdorph, Drew Sinatra, Donnalou Easthon, April Perry Caudill, Ducky Smith, Melinda Hylton Chapman, Donna Burner Slone, Korey Ryan Burris, Liz Leighton Mullins,Shay Beckett, Stephanie Stout, Darrell Carpenter, Kristin Greitman, Debbie Slusser, Charlee Henderson, Sandy Smith Garrido, Sherri Davis Edwards, Cynthia Eddy, Myra Meade"

Huntington Citizens Help Their City Rise Above the Drug Epidemic

The Heroes help in many ways. They give hope by showing recovery is possible by sharing their stories. 

The Heroes give support to one another. They are always there to listen to a fellow member. The Heroes will help find placement in a drug facility for anyone who needs treatment.

Susan Mays shared her story:

"I help and reach out to any addict suffering because I know that helpless feeling. I know how lost, devastating and out of reality you become. I know beyond a doubt that there is hope, there is recovery there is deliverance. I want the world to see that God has called us to serve each other, love our neighbor. All of our neighbors... even those addicted. The least of these.

The mercy we show is the mercy God will give us and how we forgive is the forgiveness he will give us. If anyone doubts recovery is possible go to FindtheHeroinyou, read the stories. See the compassion, love and loyalty. Pain bonds us. It is something every human on earth can relate to."

Gala Pack said, "My reason to be here to help others is because I respect Sharon so much and have known her close to 25 yrs the other is we tried so hard to save my brother Greg and couldn't and it was taboo to talk about it so I didn't I  hid it in for 5 years,  then Sharon reached out after Crystal's death and I couldn't be quiet anymore, because I realized monsters can only live in the dark. Shine your light on them and they go away.

Greg would always say he had hurt so many and done so many bad things he didn't deserve his sobriety so I say all the time you deserve your sobriety for that reason."

Shay Beckett stated, "I am in recovery, I’m almost 9 months sober at this time. I love to help others get sober as well because I have been there and I can relate to people because of that. This has been the best decision I’ve ever made and the best 9 months of my life. I’m grateful for my sobriety, and gratitude is an action work, so I want to show my gratitude by helping others get out of the seemingly hopeless situation they are in. There is hope for anyone as long as they are still breathing."

Jonathon Wierich tells his reasons for helping others:


"I'm A Grateful Recovering Addict Named Jonathon, I Can Only Keep What I Have Be Giving It Away, Like It Was So Freely Given To Me!! I Do This Because I Could Never In A Million Years Pay Back The Blessing Of Recovery That Was So Freely Given To Me!

The Drugs & Alcohol Are Just A Symptom To The Disease Of Addiction; the Root Of Our Disease Lies In Our Thinking And Is A Fear Based, Self Centered Pain & Misery Disease!


I'm A Hope Dealer. I Give Hope To The Sick And Suffering ... But, Also, To All People In General.

My Love, Myra And I, Are Constantly Working Day In And Day Out To Get People That Are Ready To Change Their Lives." 

Wierich continued: 

In The US, there are resources Such As, Detox, Drug Treatment Placement Programs, After Care Programs. Resources For Domestic Abuse, Rape Victims, Attempt Suicide, Mental Health Resources, (which include PTSD, Depression, Anxiety).  We Mentor People Into 12 Step Programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous).  Remember There's Always Hope Reach Out, Your Not Alone."

Tina Miller said, "I'm proud to be a hero ....and to be a resident of Huntington West Virginia... People ask why I volunteer ? Why not?  Be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. If you're unable to volunteer maybe you could just drive someone to a meeting or maybe go with them. A lot of times people feel alone. I'm not an addict myself, but a survivor of domestic violence. I find a lot of women and men that's been abused in some way turn to addiction or some kind of substance abuse.

I'm so proud to be a part of this group.

Someone said the other day that they were not part of this family. I'm part of a religious family that cares for one another. God has a plan, and we are part of it... If you are not yet a member, we invite you to join us.

Addiction is not only drugs. It can be alcohol porn, addiction, sex, shopping, overeating, lying, or cheating."

Huntington Citizens Help Their City Rise Above the Drug Epidemic

Sandy Garrido said, "My start with Heroes was after seeing them on Facebook. My nephew, an addict, was staying with my elderly father. I'm a full time caregiver to him! Jason had been with us a few months... I was frustrated, angry and ready to kick him out because of his addiction. Desperate to help him, I called Sharon for help! She and the group were so wonderful, so helpful, and so loving!


Though he never went to recovery, he is now under a doctor's care on Suboxone. He is to be tapered off and then going to treatment in Charleston, a ten month program!

So, after my time talking with the administrators  in the group, I started reading, posting, trying to help others!  We truly love each other and love all our Heroes that we try to help !


I've never been an addict , but seeing it first hand with my nephew taught me to see addiction in a new light! Before I didn't have much compassion because I didn't understand it at all! But through the group I've learned so much.


Our hope is that more people will help in the fight of addiction..learn more about it, especially in our beautiful Huntington."

Sherri Edwards stated, "How did I become a HERO? I've always loved working with people. I wanted to be a nurse  but that dream crumbled with problems of my spine. I'm a mother of 2 beautiful daughters and grandmother of 4. I'm an addict also because of the pain I was in and the doctors I went to. I'm lucky to be alive actually.  I decided I wanted to do something to help others. I was starting out with a group in my neighborhood in May 2017. Thats how I met Sharon Baumgardner Setliff.


She and her husband were very nice to talk to and I could tell Sharon was on a mission. Boy, I never dreamed HEROES would be so big. I knew there were people out here with problems of addiction and they needed us. We were here to encourage, love, and lift them up. No matter to small or to big, we'd dive in head first to solve the problem.


I guess that's where the phrase, " You got to love them the way they come to you! ", comes from. I have never met such a more loving bunch of people. We never give up on nobody even when they've given up on their own self. If anybody out there needs help or if you know somebody , We can give you the tools to get to Recovery. The HEROES are here 24/7 to answer questions you may have.  This is just an awesome group of people that are helping to make a difference in this epidemic. Im very proud to be a part of Team Hero.

April Caudill shared, "My part of becoming a family member in the Hero's family was one day i received a request from Sharon Baumgardner Setliff. I decided, wow, Find The Hero In You, what an awesome name of a recovery group. I found that this amazing group was not just people in recovery or trying to find recovery but for people like my momma, who prayed and prayed for me.  The inspiration of a lady reaching out to try to help others out of this demon disease inspired me  to share my experiences, hopes and also fears.

During a 3 year prison sentence, I found a Power  greater than myself.  It was a time I found myself being grateful for being sat down in that cell and for my momma, daddy, and family along with my children not having to bury me.

 I am now a fulltime mother, college student studying Social Work to become a drug and alcohol counselor. Who is now almost graduated, at least in May then transferring on to a 4 year college to get my bachelors degree because in Tennessee you have to have a bachelors to counsel. I wanted this group to have someone from my area whom I could work with on recovery placement so they too could enjoy the essence of living a clean and serene life.

I have 4 years and close to 5 months of non stop recovery with no relapse. I do this by first I placed a Power so much greater than me in control of my life, I stick with God. I mean He found me worthy enough to placed in a jail cell, rather, than my family burying me as a demon IV  drug addict.  

Debbie Slusser added,

"Having two sons on drugs and searching to know where our sons are, I came to this group. I started reading all the stories of people on drugs wanting to quit. And, yes, they had people with children on drugs searching for how to help them. 

"I slowly started comments on the stories, trying to help, encouraging them, letting them know how they are important. I cannot tell my own sons this, but I could help others. In return, it taught me things... I wasn't a bad parent. It wasn't my fault. 


This is from Donna Slone:

" i am a Recovering Addict, I have been clean from my demon drug which was Cocaine for 10 years. A different addict than those of today, but an addict is an addict & it almost killed me. But by the grace of God, I am now in Recovery. 

I have 2 grown adult children, my oldest is my Son , and he is in Prison for the second time because of his drug habit, but hey, he's alive! I think this time has really shown him the light, I'm praying anyway. He is 33 yrs old & has been at this for years.

My Daughter is is 7 years sober of Opiates, pain pills. She served 2 years in Prison & when she got out, we moved her to Illinois to live with an Aunt.

She has been sober ever sense, is engaged, has a Full time job with the Teamsters Union in Chicago and is  doing amazing.

All of  their friends whom they went to school with started dropping like flies. Every week it was someone & I just wanted to do SOMETHING, anything! That's when I joined The Heroes page.  It takes a village to save a village and Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes. We give all the glory to God, He is just using us to help save his children."

Ducky Rocks Back

Huntington Citizens Help Their City Rise Above the Drug Epidemic

Dee "Ducky" Smith is frustrated. He grew up in Huntington, but now lives in Martinsburg. The singing electrician says, "I have fond memories of all the people I have known from school, growing up many have passed due to drugs. As a former addict I've done everything just about but heroin. These people are easy souls for Satan's taking. It makes me appreciate all the time I got to spend with them and gave me a stronger passion for people. Pain is real and sometimes nothing."

Ducky well understands addiction since he has fought demons in his life. Ducky stated, "The way I was living made me want to change. Things had gotten so bad for me at one point I wanted to blow out my brains. Relocating doesn't stop a demon, it follows you or is just around the next corner."

Ducky wanted to help out. He increased awareness of the problem by writing about it.

"No more in bondage to the drug that held me captive.Left me damaged, wrecked, unattractive.Chains of addiction held me securely.I've been through High and lows, guess it's how it goes an addictive personality.I got to where I couldn't take it, hard to hide and couldn't fake it.Found myself through recovery."

9Lives Records signed Ducky to their label and released the EP Hero.

Always one to help the city he grew up in, Ducky donated the proceeds and raised donations for Facing Hunger Foodbank in Huntington, WV.


Here are the lyrics from the title track Hero:

"You might've lost a daughter, you might've lost a son.There's a war against this killer goes by the name heroin.You might've lost a cousin, you might lost best friend.You're still here, and your a fighter and now you will fight til the end.

Find the hero in you Reach down and help someone Who's going through what you've been through.There's so much we all can do.Find the hero in you.

You might've lost a sister, you might've lost a brother.This drug doesn't know rich from poor.It only wants to take out another.You might've lost an aunt, you might've lost an uncle.There's a warrior inside of you, someone's light at the end of the tunnel."

"Hero. ~ Dee Smith (c) 2017 BMI

Ducky's heart hurts for Huntington. He serves as an administrator for FindTheHeroInYou.

Ducky said, "I get Facebook messages that break my heart. I pray a lot because I get a lot of people asking me to pray for them and their loved ones who struggle. God is our refuge, a strong and mighty tower that we can run to. Faith in God gives me compassion, faith and hope in everyone. I have been homeless, I have bummed change. I'm no better than anyone out there."


Help From The Heroin Hearse

Heroin Herse
Heroin Herse

One of the more interesting characters working to disrail the epidemic is Dwayne Woods. A straight talking biker with an outspoken approach, Woods drives around in a Hearse he has dubbed "The Heroin Hearse."

Woods told WSAZ, "The car sends a strong message and the message is death." 

The hood of the hearse reads, "Together we can make a difference." The back reads, "Heroin kills," and, "Is this your last ride?"


Woods bought the Hearse to haul motorcycles. His family decided it would better serve to raise awareness about the dangers of heroin. Heroin Hearse drives around Warning of heroin's dangers.

Dwayne also works tirelessly to get drug users into rehabs. He has been known to stay up all night to find an empty bed for someone struggling with addiction.

Heroin Hearse is also trying to raise money to open a place to provide badly needed detox bedand an addiction resource center. DwayneWoods has also been a force in helping clean up needles and other debris in the area. Heroin Hearse also helped organized a rally at a skating rink to raise money to fight addiction.

Todd Sweeney: "if You Want Change, Be The Change"

Todd Sweeney
Todd Sweeney

It'd be hard to find an individual who has stepped up and made more of an impact in Huntington in the last year than West End resident Todd Sweeney.

Sweeney organized a drive for food and supplies to the homeless on the river bank in the Spring. He held a major toy drive for Christmas for disadvantaged children. He helped organize and participated in a few different community cleanups including the painting of The West End Pedestrian Tunnel.

He helped many residents with tasks like cutting grass. Wherever physical help was needed in Huntington in 2017, Todd was there. He even created the Facebook page Huntington Helping Huntington.

Sweeney continued, "I believe that you need people willing to take action in order to see the slightest bit of change you would like to see in any community. I gather necessities for the homeless and do cleanups because Huntington needs change. It’s a city in crisis. I do it for the common good. I do it to motivate others to do the same. I’ve always believed that helping others should come first and everything else will fall into place." 


It Is My Huntington, It is Your Huntington- It Is Our Huntington

Huntington Citizens Help Their City Rise Above the Drug Epidemic

While we do not know if the eye of the epidemic storm has passed over Huntington, we can be sure that residents are out trying to put the pieces back together. Huntington will come back stronger than ever as the federal, state, and local governments work with businesses and individuals. The key to Huntington's success is in the hearts of its' people.