MOUNT HOPE, W.Va. — Republican gubernatorial candidate Woody Thrasher was in Fayette County on Wednesday to discuss the details of his Drug Crisis Action Plan that was unveiled to the public last month.
Thrasher said West Virginia lacks a coherent strategy to address the ongoing drug epidemic and that Gov. Jim Justice largely has been inattentive in his approach to the problem.
“The governor was in office for over a thousand days before he even identified, recognized, or dealt with any type of the drug crisis we have. His response was ‘Jim’s Dream,’ a vision that he had had, while he was sleeping,” Thrasher told MetroNews. “That later got transferred to ‘Jobs and Hope,’ and it does deal with one component of the problem, and that is employment for people that are addicted and coming through treatment, on the other side of treatment, and that’s important but it lacks an overall plan.”
Justice, who is running for re-election in a Republican primary field that includes Thrasher, presented the Jobs & Hope program that combines recovery efforts with workforce training in October. The concept, which previously had been called “Jim’s Dream,” includes $29.7 million in funding for its first year and employs transition agents to guide people in recovery, as they move toward job training.
The Justice administration also has been asking for guidance from the public on a Substance Use Response Plan that addresses areas such as transportation, workforce readiness and law enforcement. The effort is being led by Bob Hansen, Director of West Virginia’s Office of Drug Control Policy, which was created in 2017.
Thrasher gave the Legislature credit for identifying the addiction drug crisis in West Virginia, but said more effective leadership from the governor’s office is necessary.
“I think the Legislature has done a really good job of raising their arms and waving and saying ‘We have a real problem.’ It is not the Legislature. It is the governor. It’s the leader. It’s the person whose responsibility it is to initiate a plan. He doesn’t do that. He doesn’t do it with drugs. He doesn’t do it with roads. He doesn’t do it with job creation.”
Thrasher said, if elected, he will hold cabinet meetings on the topic of substance abuse twice a week and will advocate passage of an action plan that includes five basic components.
“First, you’ve got to have prevention. Hard to do but you have to start. Right now, we’re not doing anything (in terms of) prevention. Next, you’ve got to look at these first responders. Fireman, policeman and the people that deal with these situations on a daily basis become numb to it because it literally happens on a daily basis, dealing with people that have overdosed. Then, you’ve got to have a place to house and treat these folks. Right now, West Virginia’s limited to a 90-day stay in a drug treatment facility. That’s clearly not enough. We need to petition Medicaid to be able to extend that beyond 90 days, and I think we certainly can do that. After they get out of that housing, you’ve got to have a long-term source of keeping them stable, whether that’s counseling, ongoing alternative drug use, there’s a variety of things that they use. Clearly, the most important one is to deal with the real victims of this crisis, and that’s the children of these addicts. West Virginia has seen a 67 percent increase in foster care needs in the last six years, six times the national average.”
Thrasher said one of his first acts as governor would be to collaborate with the attorney general’s office to develop and implement a hard labor penalty for drug dealers. During an interview on MetroNews “Talkline” last month, he suggested reinstituting capital punishment for dealers whose transactions directly result in the death of a user.
West Virginia abolished its death penalty law in 1965.