State Seeks Public Input On Plan To Address Drug Addiction Crisis

Oct 22, 2019

A group of state leaders working on a three-year plan to address substance use in West Virginia are traveling the state to share what they’ve come up with, and they say they need help deciding which issues to address first, and how. 

“Because we want to get this right,” said Brian Gallagher, chairman of the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment. “If we do this wrong, we run the risk of putting a lot of money, and training and time into solutions that aren’t real solutions, aren’t evidence-based.”

The West Virginia Substance Use Response Plan consists of six areas for improvement, covering everything Gallagher said his group could think of when contemplating ways addiction has negatively affected the state. That includes obvious areas, like prevention and treatment, but it also highlights where substance use disorder is most on display, like the legal system and communities that lack opportunities for employment, while calling for ways communities and their leaders can facilitate more longer-lasting recoveries for residents who are recovering from addiction. 

The state aims to complete the plan by Jan. 1, 2020, according to Bob Hansen, executive director of the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy. That way, he said, lawmakers can take over implementation of the plan during the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 8, 2020. 

The ODCP was created as a sub-department of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources in 2017 by legislative action. Hansen was appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to lead the office in late 2018, around the same time Justice’s office announced it was creating the aforementioned council on preventing and treating substance abuse.

Hansen said it’s not like the state has been idly standing by since then. 

“Oh, there’s been a whole lot of activities,” he said Monday at a public forum at the University of Charleston. His list of actions includes the recently unveiled Jobs and Hope program, which Hansen said has been working with people in recovery since this summer to connect them with meaningful employment, and the state’s quick response team initiative, which equips a team of first responders to handle overdoses. 

“[There’s been a] growth in residential treatment, there’s been a growth in outpatient practice, there’s been a growth in peer recovery support,” Hansen said. “We’re doing a lot of things automatically as we grow along. We’re not sitting just waiting to plan, we’re implementing tons of activities that will have a long-term impact for people.”

Hansen, Gallagher and others will be in Martinsburg on Tuesday, at the Berkeley County Sheriff’s office; Wheeling on Wednesday, at the Swint Hall Troy Theater; and Fairmont on Thursday, at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center. The forums begin a 4:30 p.m.

The public has until Friday, Oct. 25, to share their feedback either in person or online.