CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A pilot project first announced a year ago by Gov. Jim Justice to address substance use at the local level is expanding to Berkeley and Jefferson counties, Justice announced Friday at the state capitol.
The effort will include a partnership between the state Department of Health and Human Resources and West Virginia University who will work with community partners to both strengthen and expand existing efforts.
“We’ve got to some way get this drug thing under control,” Justice said Friday. “We’ve got to some way get our people back and we’ve got to some way train our workforce.”
Berkeley and Jefferson counties are among the highest rated counties in the state when it comes to fatal drug overdoses.
WVU Vice President and Executive Dean for Health Sciences Dr. Clay Marsh said one of the goals the university has had since the discussions began with the governor and DHHR is to focus the efforts on rebuilding families.
“We want to help children reduce adverse childhood experiences. So this program is really about starting to focus all of the community resources together,” Marsh said. “We will particularly focus on pregnant moms, children and families in the community.”
Marsh said the program would not only focus on opioids but also get at the root problem of chronic illness and chronic disease.
“I feel very proud and I’m very optimistic that when we all meet together again we will have some really exciting results to report,” Marsh said.
“We’ve got the expertise right here to be able to fix it. We’ve got the expertise,” Justice said.
State DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said he’s glad to be able to expand the pilot project.
“As West Virginia continues to lead the nation in drug overdoses and child removals from the home, initiatives like this are critical,” Crouch said in a statement. “I am thankful for the leadership of Gov. Justice and expertise of our partners at WVU as we work to create a brighter future for West Virginia children and families.”
The DHHR said Friday the Wyoming County project is in the final stages of planning and budgeting. State Office of Drug Control Policy Executive Director Bob Hansen was in a meeting with community partners Wednesday.
“There were 25 people present. Their plan is 99.9 percent finalized and they are implementing initial projects,” Hansen said.
Justice announced what he calls Jim’s Dream in January to address the opioid crisis. It includes early prevention, treatment, job training and expungement of misdemeanor drug charges. He said Friday the pilot projects were a separate but somewhat related part of the dream.
“This came about before Jim’s Dream. It’s the franchising part of Jim’s Dream. Surely Jim’s Dream takes it to another level as well,” Justice said.