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. Founded upon a school-centered and family-based approach, The Martinsburg Initiative will build strong families and empower communities.
The opiate epidemic in the City of Martinsburg, Berkeley County, the State of West Virginia, and across the United States is growing. Left unchecked, it will eventually devastate our communities through crime, the destruction of families, and the disintegration of our social structure. In addressing the growing opiate addiction crisis nationwide and the opiate epidemic in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, a new consensus has developed among law enforcement, educators, government, public health providers, and communities that it is impossible to arrest our way out of the heroin problem.
It is now recognized that the only way out of the crisis will be to simultaneously wage the fight against heroin on multiple levels—enforcement, treatment, and prevention. In its most basic terms, the fight against drugs is an economic equation—if we don’t reduce the demand for drugs, we will never reduce the supply. Actual prevention is the single most effective long-term solution to drug addiction. However, while enforcement and treatment strategies are well understood, articulated, and supported—an effective prevention strategy has until now, remained elusive.
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.
Throughout an individual’s lifespan, Adverse Childhood Experiences negatively impact physical and mental health, cognitive and social development, and ability to function as a productive adult member of society. The Center for Disease Control has demonstrated that ACEs lead directly to: Disrupted Neurodevelopment; Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Impairment; Adoption of Health-risk Behaviors; Disease, Disability, and Social Problems; and ultimately, to early death.
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 along with other serious behavioral risks, social dysfunction, and probability of early death.
"A child with six ACEs has been found to be 4,600% more likely to be an intravenous
drug user as an adult..."
The ACE assessment instrument is already being used in several states’ public health measurements and featured in-depth on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website. A number of community groups and public health organizations across the country are utilizing the science but The Martinsburg Initiative is unique.
We are taking the science to a new level of practical and effective application through a new type of police-school-community partnership. Ours will not be a “crisis intervention” type of approach. We will tap into the common thread of policing and the universality of the school in family and community-building and effect a comprehensive program with long-term results. Importantly, The Martinsburg Initiative will monitor, track, and support the family during the entire course of the child’s elementary school career.
The police and the school have a unique and special connection with dysfunctional families and at-risk children. For many troubled families, the school and the police are their only positive connection with hope, safety, and stability. The school environment is perfectly suited for ACEs based intervention. Regardless of the type of ACE being addressed in the child’s dysfunctional family environment—Domestic violence, substance abuse, physical and/or sexual abuse, incarcerated or divorced parents, etc., the child will always be spending the majority of their day in the protection of the school environment. In this way, needs can be addressed, interventions monitored, and positive results continually reinforced.
The leadership team providing overall planning, direction, and pursuit of funding for the initiativeincludes:
Chief Maury Richards and Superintendent Manny Arvon sit down with WHAG for a four-part series on The Martinsburg Initiative.
Shepherd University is partnering with Berkeley County Schools and the Martinsburg Police Department to help combat opioid addiction.