- Sep 26
Groundbreaking Heroin Prevention Program Launched in Martinsburg, WV
This morning, leaders of the Martinsburg Police Department, the Berkeley County Schools, local community and faith-based organizations, and the United States Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of West Virginia announced the launching of an innovative program for effective and long-term prevention of opiate abuse.
The Martinsburg Initiative is an innovative partnership that has developed a model solution to the problem of opiate addiction and abuse. Spearheaded by the Martinsburg Police Department and the Berkeley County Schools; the new partnership will include an array of community, faith-based, health, and law enforcement leaders and organizations. Through a strategic focus that targets at-risk children and troubled families, the initiative will assess, identify, and eliminate the basic causes of drug abuse. This program and approach is the first of its kind in the United States.
Founded upon a school-centered and family-based approach, The Martinsburg Initiative will build strong families and empower communities. The Burke Street and Winchester Avenue elementary schools have been selected as the pilot schools for the new program.
While recognizing that a successful fight against heroin must be simultaneously waged on three levels—enforcement, treatment, and prevention; The Martinsburg Initiative is based upon the premise that effective prevention is the single most effective long-term solution to drug addiction. While multifaceted in scope, The Martinsburg Initiative’s primary objective will be focused on opiate, and specifically heroin, prevention. This groundbreaking effort will apply the recognized science of Dr. Vincent Felitti’s Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study through a neighborhood school-based strategy that has never been done before.
The ACEs study categorized 10 types of traumatic experiences in childhood that increase the likelihood of physical and mental health problems, and serious behavioral disorders in adulthood. The ACEs are: Three types of abuse—Physical, Emotional, and Sexual; Two types of neglect—emotional and physical; and five types of family dysfunction—a mother who was the victim of domestic violence, a family member abusing drugs or alcohol, a family member suffering from mental illness, a family member incarcerated, and parents who are divorced.
As a child’s number of ACEs increase, so does the probability of adult dysfunction. Six ACEs is indicative of extreme family and personal dysfunction and is recognized as a critically important threshold. When a person’s number of ACEs reaches six, the health and behavior risks increase exponentially. For example, a child with six ACEs has been found to be 4,600% more likely to be an intravenous drug user as an adult than a person with zero ACEs. A child with six ACEs is 3,100% to 5,000% more likely to be a future suicide or an attempted suicide as an adult than a person with zero ACEs. By reducing the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences in an individual child, we will dramatically reduce the likelihood of future heroin use along with other serious behavioral risks, social dysfunction, and probability of early death.
The Martinsburg Initiative will be built upon the unique relationship that already exists between the police, schools, and families and on the foundation that strong schools build healthy communities. Community-building will go hand-in-hand with ACE’s interventions and therapies. The local school will be a centerpiece for anti-heroin Initiatives, community organization, and learning.
By making the school the hub of positive community life and anti-drug activity, several important strategic objectives will be achieved. Most importantly, at-risk children will strengthen their attachment to and identification with the learning institution. A new sense of belonging, and the accompanying pride and self-respect, will in turn positively impact children’s academic interest and performance. Once this process is initiated it will become self-reinforcing and this dynamic will make these children (and entire families) more drug-resistant.
The quality of children’s experience in school is closely linked with a number of crime and drug precursors. The degree of success in learning, amount of identification with school and school-related activities, being bullied or being a bully, involvement or non-involvement with sports programs—all have been demonstrated to strongly impact the probability of delinquency, criminal activity, gang membership, developmental issues, suicide, and substance abuse.
An Executive Board leadership team will provide overall planning, direction, and pursuit of funding for the initiative. Executive Board members are: Maurice Richards, Chief of Police of the Martinsburg Police Department; Manny Arvon, Superintendent of Berkeley County Schools; Penny Porter, CEO of the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle; Katie Spriggs, Program Director of the Shenandoah Women’s Center; Rev. Julie Harris, Vice President of the Berkeley County Ministerial Association; Dr. Veronique Walker, Director of Diversity and Student Support Services, Berkeley County Schools; Steven Roach, Martinsburg Educator and Youth Counselor; and William Ihlenfeld, United States Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia.
By linking together law enforcement, schools, communities, and families, The Martinsburg Initiative will provide the foundation for the partnerships essential for success. Based upon the proven science of the Adverse Childhood Experiences assessment, it will apply a comprehensive strategy of ACE’s intervention and treatment that will result in heroin prevention. Our country has been fighting the scourge of heroin for a long time. The Martinsburg Initiative is the model solution that provides the way to finally win.