CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is working to develop a plan to best respond to the state’s opioid epidemic.

The plan will be developed with ideas from the public and from a panel of regional and national experts. A draft plan will then be submitted to the state Legislature in January.

This comes after Governor Jim Justice signed HB 2620 into law this year to create the Office of Drug Control Policy.

The office is under the direction of Bill Crouch, DHHR Cabinet Secretary, and Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner for the state DHHR’s’ Bureau for Public Health.

The expert panel was announced this month and includes:

  • Dr. Sean Allen, Assistant Scientist in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Dr. Jeffrey Coben, Dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health and Associate Vice President of Health Affairs
  • Dr. Shannon Frattaroli, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University
  • Jim Johnson, Director of the DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy
  • Dr. Sean Loudin, Associate Professor at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine

Gupta said they want to act quickly to combat the issue.

“Don’t be surprised if you see actions already occurring even before the final report comes out,” he said. “Every single day we pass, we’re losing West Virginians. Every 10 hours somebody’s dying. Our data shows we are 20 percent over last year, so we can’t afford to wait anymore.”

According to the DHHR, 884 West Virginians lost their lives due to overdose — resulting in the highest overdose death rate per capita in the nation.

Seven out of 10 who died in 2016 in West Virginia had a prescription for a controlled substance filled within a year of their death, according to preliminary data. Two in five overdose victims had a prescription filled within 30 days prior to their death.

Gupta said the drug issue is impacting West Virginians every day.

“I don’t go to a single meeting where everyone doesn’t raise their hand, literally, and says ‘yes, we’ve been impacted’,” he said.

Because so many people have been effected by the drug problem, Gupta said they want to hear from them. He said the panel wants to know how they think the problem should be addressed.

“You want to comment your best solution in prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery, overdoses or maternal and child issues in overdose,” Gupta said.

The public comment period runs through Dec. 15.

After that, Gupta said they will hold a public meeting that will include treatment providers, first responders, social service providers, law enforcement, regulatory agencies, public health experts and others.

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