DHHR Secretary gives update on practices used to fight West Virginia’s drug epidemic

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Karen Bowling, cabinet secretary for the State Department of Health and Human Resources, told members of a legislative interim committee what’s working and what’s not when it comes to fighting West Virginia’s drug epidemic.

During a meeting at the state Capitol Monday, Bowling said naloxone treatment, a drug used to reverse the effects of opioids, has helped save lives over the last year.

State DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling
State DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling

“Just as a matter of information, 3,351 doses have been administered by EMS agencies in 2015. That was up from 2,165 in 2014,” Bowling reported.

Standardizing practices in needle exchange programs across West Virginia is a topic Bowling would like to see addressed by lawmakers in the upcoming 2017 Regular Legislative Session.

The program, which started in Huntington last year and expanded out to other West Virginia cities, helps reduce the spread of diseases like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV or AIDS.

Substance abuse, Bowling said, has impacted families statewide. She said there’s been a large increase of children removed from homes due to drug use.

“74 percent have some sort of substance as an issue when children are removed,” she said. “Now what does that mean for us as a state? It just gives us more validity to the fact that there’s a significant problem in the state.”

Children who experience substance abuse in the home, Bowling said, are likely to experience trauma when removed from the home. She said kids who’ve had multiple episodes of trauma are known to develop health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression or suicide.

“Now we’re in a position where we’re potentially, just by removing the children, we are putting trauma on the child, but we have no choice because we have to ensure their safety and well being,” Bowling said. “So what’s the strategy? Deal with the family. Help the parents who have a substance abuse issue.”

In 2011, West Virginia saw 41 heroin related deaths. In 2015, there were 201 heroin related deaths — an increase of almost 400 percent, according to Bowling.

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