In January, the West Virginia legislature gaveled in for another 60 day session. Per usual, there will be a number of topics debated and voted on over the next two months. This year, it’s critical that the West Virginia legislature finish what it started in 2022 and overturn the opioid treatment program (OTP) moratorium.
We all know how dire the opioid epidemic is in West Virginia. The state has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country. HIV and Hepatitis C are both on the rise, with injection drug use being the primary risk factor. This crisis isn’t just a public health problem; it’s an economic one. Substance abuse makes it harder for employers to find and recruit talent.
OTPs are the only facilities that can provide all three forms of FDA approved medication for opioid use disorder, including methadone. Methadone is the gold standard when it comes to treating addiction. Methadone is highly effective in curbing opioid cravings, and can help an individual live an active and productive life. Unfortunately, West Virginia has the most restrictive laws in the nation when it comes to regulating methadone, and hasn’t allowed any new methadone providers to open in the state for years. The state with the highest rate of overdose deaths in the country also has the most restrictive laws when it comes to the tool that can best help people struggling with addiction? It just doesn’t make sense!
Bi-partisan legislation was introduced on the topic last year, and it passed both Health committees and a vote on the floor of the House of Delegates. If it hadn’t been for a tight schedule in the final days of the legislative session, it likely would have already been overturned. Thankfully two different bills (HB 2196 and HB 2419) have already been introduced in 2023 that would overturn the moratorium, giving legislators the vehicle to do so.
Since last year’s legislative session, there is even more reason to act. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) made several temporary changes that made it easier for community members to access methadone. Patients were able to take home methadone for several weeks, easing the burden of accessing the tool and making it easier to fit into their lives. Thankfully, SAMSHA made this change permanent in December, which will save time and gas money for countless West Virginians. These federal policy changes coupled with repeal of the moratorium would put methadone in reach as a tool for so many West Virginians who realistically just can’t access it now.
There is broad agreement in the state of West Virginia on the need to combat the opioid epidemic and save lives. There isn’t always agreement across the political spectrum about the best path forward to do so. This year, let’s make progress that we can all agree on: ending the moratorium on new opioid treatment programs and increasing access to one of our best tools to help folks quit using drugs.
Lee Storrow is the regional and national policy director for the non-profit Community Education Group, serving West Virginia and Appalachia.