These are not the times America’s fathers wished for their daughters and sons. For almost 30 years, starting with opioids and branching to other substances, such as meth, the drug crisis in West Virginia has emerged as the number one social problem that undergirds all else. Horrific stories of lives wasted, children abused, and families distraught reverberate in statewide media almost daily.
In Harrison County, Gary Hamrick and the Day Report Center work to roll back the number of people trapped in that lifestyle. In appreciation of this work, Hamrick serves as the June Citizen of the Month.
The Day Report program in West Virginia intervenes with selected and qualifying non violent offenders whose crimes stem directly or indirectly from drug use. Day Report maintains offender ties to employment and family while mandating therapy and treatment. It also rehabilitates offenders while holding them accountable in their home environment, rather than a costly regional jail cell.
Also, as the news this week has shown, anyone, even the most accomplished and famous in the Mountain State, can see their lives fall apart through the tragic catalyst of addiction.
Hamrick brings a lifetime of expertise to Harrison County community corrections. He was born and raised in the county and is a lifelong resident of Clarksburg. Hamrick earned his sociology degree at Fairmont State University, carrying that academic training into Child Protective Services work. After two years of investigating neglect and abuse, he started work as an investigator of Medicaid fraud.
From there, Hamrick took his experience into serving for 16 years as an investigator for the Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney. Now he serves as both executive director of the county day report program and also Harrison County School Board president.
His work with the school board stems from a deep appreciation of the role education has in his life and work. “I’m the first in my family of 20 grandkids to graduate from college,” Hamrick explained, adding that “I am passionate about public education and what it did for me and my life.”
“His work daily relies on “the accumulating expertise” from a career of investigation and a life of public service. His previous work in investigations leading up to court cases provides a solid foundation for directing day report, but in this case “I am on the other side, after the fact.” Now he strives to help adult men and women bounce back from, for many of them, teh worst crisis of their lives.
In essence, he wants to make day report their “rock bottom” before they slip deeper into either the system or crime and addiction.
As Hamrick explains, community corrections is “also a day treatment and counseling center that employs my earlier experience in social work.” He also shared that “I really do like this role because there’s such a need for it.”
Hamrick’s assessment of the drug abuse and related criminal environment echoes that of other officials and experts. He stated that “ 99 percent of everything we do involves drugs.” In other words, almost every crime is related to drug use, abuse, sales, or acquisition, but “we can’t arrest our way out of the problem.”
Day report reflects the realistic notion that “we’re not going to save them all, but we do it one at a time.”
One of the big changes over the past several years lies in social attitudes across the state regarding addiction, recovery, and criminal justice solutions. Hamrick says “the stigma is leaving” and that “even the most adamant anti-drug person who years ago would say ‘lock him up’” has likely seen one or more family members in addiction since, and now supports efforts like community corrections.
He said, “It’s sad that’s what it takes.”
Hamrick takes issue with calling the crisis “opioid,” because he says it creates a false perspective. Putting the “opioid” category on it, he says, does help to keep the focus on the source of the problem from the pharmaceutical sector, pressuring them to continue to help.
That said, Hamrick explains that calling it an “opioid” problem unintentionally takes public focus off drugs that are non opioid, but are just as, if not more dangerous. It glosses over the fact that an addict will take his high from the path of least resistance, whether that path leads to Oxycontin or methamphetamines. The difference is, Hamrick says, one cannot get recovery funds from a meth dealer.
“There is opioid addiction and there is drug addiction,” he says, “but we have to fight it on all levels.”
Hamrick also advises that the current problem is not that drug recovery efforts do not provide enough beds. The problem, he says “is lack of people willing to go to those beds,” but “we have to find ways to get people to those beds.”
Day report helps to provide that motivation, but also gives individuals tools to cope after they graduate from the program. Appropriate day report staff also function as the county drug court treatment team. Often confused with each other, day report is a separate organization that supports the drug court’s work with higher risk offenders. They also teach DUI classes to help offenders get their drivers’ licenses back.
One major goal lies in getting participants “re-employable” or “to save their job” so they can either remain or become self-sufficient again.
Hamrick explains that the Harrison County center “is very fortunate” in that it is one of the few in the state that operate self-sufficiently. In other words, they operate on revenues driven by participants and do not need to ask for support from entities such as the county commission.
On a personal note, Hamrick shares that his dedication to elected service comes in part from his roles in public work. “I’ve made a great living and career as an employee of the government. This is my way of giving back.”
And regardless of whether the goal lies in helping addicts recover one at a time or improving public education, “all it takes,” he said, “is all of us.”