Gupta, state and local health officials discuss opioid epidemic during roundtable

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Federal, state and local leaders that deal with issues surrounding the opioid epidemic had a chance to discuss those issues and ways to solve them during a roundtable discussion Thursday in Charleston at the state Culture Center.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of National Drug Control Policy, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and Dr. Matthew Christiansen, Director of Office of Drug Control Policy led the discussions that featured nearly two dozen participants.

Rahul Gupta

Gupta, who is the former State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health from 2015-2018, told the table that the Biden administration has made the opioid epidemic a priority.

“I can assure to you that President Biden is totally committed on this issue. He looks at this as a top, urgent priority,” he said.

Gupta served as the health officer and executive director for the Kanawha Charleston Health Department from 2009-2014.

He said his administration emphasizes a community agenda to fight the epidemic because the issue does not discriminate between race, where a person lives or their income.

“If it remains easier to get illicit drugs than to get treatment in America, we are not going to solve the problem. That’s the bottom line. We have to approach it like that,” Gupta said.

Christiansen expressed three ‘components of success’ that his office has had in the past two years since taking the role. He said they are the power of collaboration, innovation and the power of people in recovery.

He detailed innovation among the group by saying, “Necessity is the mother of innovation and we certainly have the need in West Virginia to innovate. If there was one solution out there to addiction, we would have fixed this already.”

Christiansen said the power of people in recovery can often be found in their stores.

“We will never be okay with any overdose in West Virginia. But it’s worth mentioning our successes too. Of the 1,500 people or so who passed away over the past year, that represents about two percent of the people in West Virginia with a substance use disorder,” he said.

Karl Colder, the City of Huntington Huntington Chief of Police emphasized that work needs to be done to get those in recovery to the finish line.

“How can we connect people at the discharge, especially with mental health? Upon discharge, they are now ready to enter the community. How do we keep on them their medication,” Colder said.

Colder said his police department has spent 632 man hours on homelessness and substance abuse in the past six months. He wants additional training for his officers and law enforcement about the state on how to handle the epidemic including mental health.

Gayle Manchin, the Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) praised the success of the INSPIRE (INvestments Supporting Partnerships In Recovery Ecosystems) initiative created by the ARC. She said over $15 million has been given through the program for rehab, wrap-around services and community issues.

Other participants included: William S. Thompson, U.S. Attorney, Southern District of West Virginia; Brian Gallagher, Chair, Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention and Treatment, Chief of Governmental Affairs and Health Care Policy for Marshall University; Michael Haney, Executive Director of PROACT; Bill J. Crouch, Cabinet Secretary, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources; Christina Mullins, Commissioner, Bureau for Behavioral Health; Dr. Ayne Amjad, State Health Officer and Commissioner, Bureau for Public Health; Chad Napier, Appalachian HIDTA; Jeff Sandy, Cabinet Secretary, West Virginia Department of Homeland Security; Rev. James Patterson, Partnership of African American Churches; The Honorable Anita Ashley, Roane County Circuit Court Judge; Dr. Anita Stewart, Fayette County Health Department; Joe Deegan, President, Behavioral Healthcare Providers Association; Mark Spangler, Executive Director, West Virginia Board of Medicine; Dr. Sherri Young, Associate Chief Medical Officer, CAMC; Deborah Harris, Lead Transition Agent, Jobs & Hope WV; Drew Massey, Director of Pharmacy, Fruth Pharmacy; and Cece Brown, Parent..

Gupta’s return to West Virginia this week has included a Q&A event at the University of Charleston, an award ceremony at the Kanawha County Commission and multiple ridealongs in communities.

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