CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Woody Thrasher, Republican candidate for West Virginia’s governor, says the opioid problem is such a crisis that the state should have the option of executing drug dealers whose sales result in death.
“I think it should be considered when you look at the havoc they wreak on society; we should consider the sternest of all measures,” Thrasher said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
Capital punishment for fatal drug deals is only part of the broader set of proposals Thrasher released Thursday. Other proposals include increasing availability of treatment for people who need more than 90 days, providing more support for grandparents raising children and breaking up the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Thrasher, a former state Commerce secretary, emphasized that he believes addiction is a disease that needs to be treated with compassion.
But the death penalty proposal stood out as one likely to stir debate.
The wording in Thrasher’s platform is: “In drug crimes that result in death, including the sale of tainted drugs, when the guilt of a person is established beyond a reasonable doubt, we should consider the death penalty.”
West Virginia abolished capital punishment in 1965.
The opioid crisis has left a tragic trail of deaths in West Virginia, which has the highest fatality rate in the nation from drug overdoses, 57.8 per 10,0000.
The fatality problem has become more acute with the prevalence of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
“Those folks who are selling fentanyl-based things, we’ve got to come down hard on them, Thrasher said. “We’ve got to come down with a hammer.”
Still, Thrasher’s suggestion of applying capital punishment to drug deals that result in fatalities drew a swift rebuke from state Senator Ron Stollings, a Democrat and doctor who is also running for governor.
“I just think it’s ridiculous,” Stolling said in a telephone interview. “We don’t have a death penalty in West Virginia. I don’t think it would curb a drug deal. These drug dealers are not fazed by punishment or anything like that. A lot of them are addicted also. The definition of addiction means you do crazy stuff.
“Everybody wants to criminalize addiction and you can’t. You have to treat addiction or substance use disorder as a chronic illness.”
Stollings and Thrasher each attended a public hearing to roll out a West Virginia Substance Use Response Plan this week.
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) October 21, 2019
Stollings said dealing with addiction problems is central to his campaign. He said his experiences as a physician who focuses on geriatric patients in Boone County as well as his time on the Senate’s Finance Committee lend themselves to a good starting point in coping with those problems.
He emphasized integrating recovery programs into primary care, as well as strengthening services to support children affected by family drug addiction in the first few years of their lives. He also wants to focus on how settlement money is used.
“You have to have somebody with some knowledge about the process so these precious dollars will be spent in the most meaningful way. I think with my background I’m that person,” Stollings said.
Other candidates have also been talking about how to deal with West Virginia’s opioid crisis.
Democrat Ben Salango, a plaintiffs attorney who announced his candidacy this month, says on his website that he will “fight the scourge of the prescription drug epidemic” but doesn’t yet provide details.
Stephen Smith, a community organizer running as a Democrat, proposes on his website to rapidly expand access to drug treatment services and to focus on providing better access to jobs, housing and food for those facing addiction.
“We are the state that started the American revolution and powered the industrial revolution – we can lead our nation in showing how to solve the opioid and addiction epidemic too,” Smith states on his website.
Jody Murphy, a Pleasants County development official running as a Democrat, said use and possession should be decriminalized.
But Murphy said he doesn’t believe in putting more money into DHHR, which, instead,he proposes shrinking.
“I don’t have an answer, a real answer anyway. Not yet,” Murphy stated in response to a MetroNews question.
“My commitment is to grow residency and the economy and increase educational opportunities to address what I believe is the root cause of our opioid crisis (poor socioeconomic background, lack of educational attainment and better economic opportunities.)”
Republican candidate Mike Folk, a former state delegate, says government won’t solve the problem. “People and the community will,” Folk said.
Gov. Jim Justice, who is running for re-election last week kicked off the Jobs & Hope program that combines recovery efforts with workforce training. The concept previously had been called “Jim’s Dream.”
“This started with just a dream,” Justice said last week. “We’ve got drugs affecting every family in this state, one way or another. We have to do something about it.”
Jobs & Hope includes $29.7 million in funding for its first year and employs transition agents to guide people in recovery as they overcome obstacles such as transportation and move toward job training.
The Justice administration also has been asking for guidance from the public on a Substance Use Response Plan that includes issues such as transportation, workforce readiness and law enforcement.
That effort is being led by Bob Hansen, the director of West Virginia’s Office of Drug Control Policy.
Hansen was named to that position last December. The office was created in 2017 and already has had several directors. The first was Jim Johnson, who retired after a few months. Then Michael Brumage took over and stayed on for only seven weeks. Interim directors included Susie Mullens and Nancy Sullivan.
Thrasher, speaking on “Talkline,” said the Justice administration has dealt too inconsistently with a pervasive problem.
“There is no concerted effort and plan to deal with this problem in West Virginia,” Thrasher said. “We have to do better than we’re doing.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) October 24, 2019