CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The opioid epidemic is getting worse in West Virginia, but state health officials say they’ll soon have a plan to address it.
“This is a fast moving crisis. It’s evolving and we need to react and figure out what to do,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner for the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health.
The state DHHR held a public meeting in Charleston Thursday to hear of possible solutions from West Virginia citizens and health experts. More than 100 people attended the hearing.
Gupta said the DHHR will include both public comments and advice from a panel of regional and national experts to develop a draft plan to submit to the state Legislature in January.
The DHHR is calling it the West Virginia Opioid Response Plan.
The plan, Gupta said, will include personal experiences that will “bring a face” to the crisis.
“We heard from people who are recovering. We heard from people who have lost family members and friends and colleagues,” he said. “We want these recommendations to be informed by the people’s experiences and not just science.”
As of Thursday, the DHHR received more than 300 comments online.
The establishment of the panel 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 Dr. Gupta and DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch.
Drug overdose death rates continue to soar, particularly in West Virginia. According to a new report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia had the worst overdose death rate in 2016, at 52 per 100,000 people.
The national rate is 19.8 per 100,000 people.
Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania followed West Virginia with rates in the high 30s.
Nearly 63,000 people Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 — up 21 percent from 2015, according to the report. That’s 174 people who die every day.
The CDC said more than 42,000 of the deaths were tied to some form of opioids — a 28 percent increase from 33,000 in 2015.
Deaths due to heroin rose nearly 20 percent and deaths due to other opioid pain killers, including hydrocodone and oxycodone, rose 14 percent, the report said.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said in a Thursday statement:
“Congressional leaders, government officials and my colleagues should be alarmed by the rate in which people are dying. By now, they should know that this problem and its consequences are not just going to go away and that I’m not going to go away or sit idly by as millions of Americans just continue to die. As a nation, we cannot accept this anymore.”
Gupta said he would like to see a variety of solutions to West Virginia’s plan. He said recovering addicts need wrap around services, children need to be educated about the challenges of addiction at an early age and prescription supplies need to be limited, to name a few.
West Virginians are encouraged to submit their ideas in the areas of prevention, early intervention/screening, treatment, recovery, decreasing overdoses and decreasing maternal drug use and neonatal abstinence syndrome.
The state DHHR is accepting public comments online through Dec. 30 at 11:59 p.m. To submit your thoughts, CLICK HERE.