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PKG | POTUS stops in WV to talk one thing: heroin

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The heroin epidemic has gotten so bad that it has grabbed the attention of the President of the United States.

"I was stunned by the statistics. More Americans die every year from drug overdoses than they do from motor vehicle crashes,” President Obama said to a packed crowd Wednesday afternoon.

The crowd consisted of hundreds of West Virginians, including residents from the Eastern Panhandle, who gathered in Charleston for a community discussion on the heroin epidemic.

Unlike previous heroin forums held across the state however, this discussion was lead by President Obama himself.

"When people throw around words like ‘junkie’, no one wants to be labeled in that way,” the President explained. “Part of our goal here today is to replace those words with words like ‘father’ or ‘daughter’…because then you understand that there is a human element behind this.

“This could happen to any of us. This could happen to any of our families."

While the president could have had the discussion anywhere, many say he chose West Virginia because the state ranks highest in the nation for drug overdose death rates.

"I don't want to say I feel honored, but it is great that he recognizes a need for [help] here,” said Martinsburg City Councilman Kevin Knowles, who traveled from the Eastern Panhandle with Berkeley County Councilmen Dan Dulyea and Doug Copenhaven to listen to the President speak.

"There's not another country on earth that can take us militarily or…or take us on economically. They're not even close to us,” said Senator Joe Manchin, who flew in with President Obama on Air Force One for the event.

“[However] we don't think they have to. They just wait, and let us destroy from within."

While the President's interest has put a national spotlight on the heroin epidemic, plans for developing and funding treatment centers remain unclear; and yet treatment centers remain a top priority for many West Virginians, and are the top priority for many in Berkeley County.

“If I could tell [President Obama] one thing, it is the need that we have for help in Berkeley County,” said Berkeley County Councilman Dan Dulyea.

The President was clear that unless Americans change the way they think about addiction, then there will be no progress in the fight against heroin.

"This is an illness, and we have to treat is as such. We have to change our mental thinking.”

President Obama told the audience he has set aside $133 million for enhanced treatment facilities, but it is still unclear whether or not any of that money will be used to build the Berkeley County Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center.

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