CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The director of the newly formed state Office of Drug Control Policy says he wasn’t surprised to learn the scope of West Virginia’s drug problem after a month of being on the job.
“It affects everything that we have — from jobs, to the money that we’re spending on public health, law enforcement, corrections,” said Jim Johnson. “There’s not anything that the drug problem doesn’t affect. It didn’t surprise me how big of a problem it is.”
Johnson was appointed to the job last month by state Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch.
He is currently working to develop a long-term plan to fight the drug epidemic in West Virginia.
“We cannot have the negative connotations that we lead the country in overdose death rates — not only what it means to families and communities, but what it means economically,” Johnson said.
Johnson previously served as an officer and later police chief during his 40 years with the Huntington Police Department. He also served as director of the Huntington Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.
The office was created by state lawmakers through a bill signed by Governor Jim Justice earlier this year that allows the state to fight the drug epidemic with a coordinated effort.
The office has been working with communities and has been looking into at what resources are available in order to put a strageic plan in place.
As far as short-term goals, Johnson said he wants to prevent overdose deaths, reduce the rates of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and provide naloxone to people who need it.
“We’ve done a good job with naloxone, but naloxone is not the answer to the drug problem. It’s an answer to keep people alive,” Johnson said.
Johnson said his office is working closely with the DHHR and Dr. Rahul Gupta, the state health officer, to develop a plan.
According to Johnson, there were more than 800 drug-related deaths in West Virginia in 2016.
In August, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on the opioid crisis. The state Office of Drug Control Policy is waiting to hear from the White House about what that means for West Virginia in terms of federal funding and resources.