CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released its proposal to address the state’s opioid crisis Thursday, simultaneously opening the eight-day public comment period on the preliminary report.
The proposal includes six approaches to respond to issues stemming from risky opioid use and fatal overdoses. West Virginia led the country in drug overdose death rate in 2016 with 52 fatalities per 100,000 people, with 884 deaths connected to the excessive use of opioids.
“Every nine to 10 hours, a West Virginian is dying from a drug overdose,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner of the department’s Bureau for Public Health. “We have significant findings and information now that we believe that there are types of things that if we do now without breaking the bank, we can have a significant impact on the deaths as well as the overdoses, and get people into treatment.”
A panel made up of individuals involved in health care policy, administration and education prepared the report. The recommendations also come after a review of more than 300 public comments and input from state agencies.
The proposal includes the following actions:
— Expanding the authority of medical boards to stop risky prescribing on pain medications;
— Developing a public education campaign and expanding programs raising awareness of addiction;
— Requiring the state to have a strategy for treatment, including the removal of barriers;
— Training and allowing first responders to carry naloxone;
— Growing programs for family services, such as reversible contraception and treatment for babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome; and
— Pursuing the expansion of peer-based recovery programs.
Gupta said the state cannot afford to arrest people for non-violent drug crimes, and treatment is a way to save money and help people stop using drugs.
“There’s an opportunity here to put the bad actors into prison — the drug dealers and others — while making sure the non-violent folks who need treatment rather than imprisonment can get treated and get back into the workforce and contribute to the economy of our state,” he said.
The proposed state plan comes more than two months after President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, allowing federal agencies 90 days to redirect resources and expand services. The president has not acted on the matter since Oct. 26. The order is set to expire Jan. 23.
Gupta told Politico he has not seen any significant changes as a result of the order, adding while Trump’s thoughts and prayers are helpful, “additional funding and resources would be more helpful.”
Public comments will be accepted until Jan. 19 and can be submitted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.