Substance abuse is one of the greatest struggles our state has ever faced, and it is destroying the lives of far too many of our family members, friends and neighbors.
As we continue efforts to improve our workforce participation rate and strengthen the economy, we must keep our residents off drugs and provide those who need help with access to the treatment and recovery services they need to return to their families, communities and workplaces.
Since 2011, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse has helped us find more localized ways to combat this epidemic. We’ve updated our prescription drug monitoring program, cracked down on the sale of drugs used to make meth and worked to end doctor shopping. This session, my colleagues in the House of Delegates launched a Select Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse, and I encourage committee members to work closely with GACSA to build on the progress we have already made.
With the help of GACSA and justice reinvestment reforms, we’ve already invested more than $39 million to expand local, community-based treatment and recovery services in areas across the state.
My administration is also committed to continuing the fight against drug companies that oversupply pain medication to our residents without proper orders. As a recent $2.5 million settlement with Ohio-based drug company Miami-Luken Inc. shows, we are holding companies accountable for irresponsible prescription practices. This is just the first of a dozen defendants to reach a settlement agreement in our case, scheduled for an October trial in Boone County.
Last September, we launched the state’s first 24-hour substance abuse call line — 844-HELP4WV — to connect those struggling with the treatment and services they need to begin the road to recovery. We’ve also launched a new brochure that highlights 150 treatment options across West Virginia where people can get help here at home with the support of their families and communities. This brochure is available online and at local courthouses, schools, churches, DHHR offices and libraries in all 55 counties.
Today, there are more substance abuse treatment and recovery services available than ever before. We want people to find help and hope in West Virginia, and that starts by making sure treatment facilities are providing comprehensive care.
During my State of the State address, I introduced legislation to establish licensing requirements for medication-assisted treatment facilities that prescribe suboxone and methadone. Research shows the use of these medications alone do not support long-term recovery. The bill requires counseling and behavioral therapies be used in conjunction with these medications to give those seeking help the holistic support they need to begin the recovery process.
Last year, with the help of the Legislature, I signed landmark legislation to provide families and first responders access to a life-saving drug to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. This year, I’ve introduced legislation to expand the Opioid Antagonist Act of 2015 by making Narcan available to any West Virginian — without a prescription. This new legislation aims to decrease the number of overdose deaths in West Virginia and requires pharmacists to train those who receive this drug to ensure they can safely administer it if a crisis occurs. The bill will also help us keep track of who is receiving Narcan to better focus state resources in areas hardest hit by opioid overdoses and ensure that it isn’t being used as a crutch to enable a heroin addiction.
At a time when state resources are strained, we must work together to combine our resources and tailor efforts to the needs of our constituents. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass legislation that will build on our success and make a difference in the lives of our state’s families and communities.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is the 35th and current governor of West Virginia. He can be reached at 304-558-2000 or 1-888-438-2731. Follow on Twitter @GovTomblin.