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Preventing Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
This significant infusion of Federal funding will enable West Virginia to strengthen its prescription drug monitoring program. It also follows the recent expansion of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which I advocated, to include Wyoming, Raleigh, and Mercer Counties. This expansion enables our State’s law enforcement officers and officials to access additional Federal resources to further its drug control and prevention efforts -- shutting down pill mills and methamphetamine labs, and protecting our homes and businesses from the encroaching drug trade.
But, any successful anti-drug strategy must include a public health component – aimed at treating and preventing mental illness such as addiction.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction is a chronic relapsing disease, not unlike diabetes and heart disease. As anyone knows who has had to help a loved one with drug addiction, it can be devastating to individuals and families, and its harmful consequences can easily spread to the community at large.
In the past few years, there have been vast improvements in the understanding of mental illness. We know that it reaches beyond drug and alcohol addiction and affects many Americans who suffer from depression and anxiety and social phobias. We know it affects our returning soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. And we know it is more common than is recognized, and that it can be treated and prevented with proper care.
In Congress, I have advocated Federal programs that make funding available to mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities in our State. I have pressed for Federal resources so that our community clinics can not only expand their facilities’ capacity but also hire additional physicians and mental health and substance abuse providers.
I also have sought to expand the number of residency training positions at our local health clinics, including in our VA health system, so that recent medical school graduates can train as mental health specialists and hopefully stay on for the long haul within our communities.
And I have sought to ensure that affordable health insurance is available to more West Virginians, so that preventive care and mental health and substance treatment are accessible to those who need it, and not just those who can afford it.
For our veterans, we know that long deployments and battle conditions can leave deep wounds – both for returning veterans and families alike. The VA has a responsibility to ensure service members – active duty, and the Guard and Reserve -- as well as family members, get the treatment and health care they need.
With my support, Congress has expanded the VA’s budget for mental health services by 64 percent in the last five years. As a result, the Medical Centers in Huntington and Beckley have hired additional mental health providers to assist returning veterans with behavioral health needs.
At my urging, the Congress recently passed a package of VA reforms aimed at hiring more doctors and health providers, including mental health specialists, and helping to strengthen the network of veterans’ care between VA providers and their private sector counterparts.
Increasing access to care, while strengthening our capacity to provide that care, is unquestionably a step in the right direction. I will continue to press for the resources and support our health providers and citizens need to raise awareness and improve care for those suffering from addiction and mental illness.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District. For more information, contact Diane Luensmann at (202) 225-3452, or visit http://rahall.house.gov.