CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice today introduced a new director of Drug Control Policy and also announced a new drug control initiative meant to focus intensely on a couple of West Virginia counties to try to determine what strategies are most effective.
Justice’s new director is Mike Brumage, currently the director of the health department for Kanawha and Putnam counties and on the faculty at WVU.
He replaces Jim Johnson, who retired in January after a little more than four months on the job in the newly-established office.
“Michael is a superstar,” Justice said.
The governor spent more time describing an initiative to focus on a couple of counties in the fight against opioid drug addiction. Justice was careful to say anti-addiction efforts will continue across the state.
But he said West Virginia needs to focus greater effort on a couple of counties to learn what works.
“We don’t have enough money to fight the battle on all fronts all the time,” Justice said. “But we’ve got to come up with a model that works.”
Justice added, “There is no way you can fight this on 55 fronts and win. We’ve got to have a win somewhere.”
Several key, unanswered questions remained about what Justice wants to do. One is how much money would be available for such an initiative. Another is what strategies would be attempted that aren’t already being tried.
And another is what counties are involved. Justice singled out Wyoming County as a likely possibility that he favors, although it’s not settled. He said another county would likely be in the northern part of the state or the Eastern Panhandle.
Asked about measuring success against a county boundary when the drugs may flow across borders and those who face addiction problems may move as well, Justice and his administration said the details will have to be worked out.
“It’s a little too early to say how this is going to look,” said Bill Crouch, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Justice added that it’s too soon to even know when the initiative may begin.
“You know I’m an impatient guy. We’ve got to move on this,” the governor said. “The efforts that have been made to date are failures. Are we guaranteed this is going to work? Absolutely not.”
Among the participants in the press conference — and in the initiative — are West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and WVU Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Clay Marsh.
“We’ll bring the assets that we have to do the most good for the communities involved,” Marsh said.
Brumage said he is still getting familiar with the ins and outs of his new job. But he said he is excited to make progress against West Virginia’s drug epidemic.
“I go in very sober, knowing this is a tremendous problem we have,” Brumage said.
Speaking with reporters following the news conference, Brumage said his role will be a connector — of people and ideas.
“We have a good strong start, but there’s much more to do obviously. Everybody knows what the statistics are and how devastating this opioid epidemic is to our state in terms of healthcare costs, economic drain on our state, lost productivity and just ripping the social fabric of our state,” Brumage said.