UPDATE: Opioid response plan released for public comment

Published: Dec. 21, 2017 at 6:25 PM EST
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UPDATE 1/11/18 @ 5:30 p.m.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is looking for public comments on a proposed opioid response plan.

The plan was developed through public engagement after a review of more than 300 public comments, a public meeting in December and input from state agencies.

West Virginia DHHR officials say the plan is needed because of the severity of the opioid issues in the state.

Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch says Gov. Jim Justice has told the department to utilize all resources to combat the epidemic.

"The effects of the drug problem are impacting all parts of DHHR including - Behavioral Health, Children and Families, Medical Services, and Public Health. Beginning today, our primary focus is to fight this problem on all fronts, and this plan is a crucial step in meeting that goal. Governor Justice has pledged his full support to DHHR to battle this ever-growing issue," Crouch said.

The proposed plan notes that the state has the highest rate of drug overdose mortality in the United States, with more than 880 deaths in 2016.

The proposed plan includes recommendations in six areas that have been copied below:


• West Virginia should expand the authority of medical professional boards and public health officials to stop inappropriate prescribing of pain medications.

• West Virginia should limit the duration of initial opioid prescriptions.

Early Intervention:

• West Virginia should expand awareness of addiction as a treatable disease by developing a public education campaign to address misinformation and associated stigma.

• West Virginia should expand promising law-enforcement diversion programs, such as the LEAD model, to help people experiencing a drug problem access treatment and achieve sustained recovery.

• West Virginia should strengthen support for lifesaving comprehensive harm reduction policies by removing legal barriers to programs that are based on scientific evidence and by adding resources.


• Reflecting the need for all patients to have access to multiple options for treatment, West Virginia should require a statewide quality strategy for opioid use disorder treatment and remove regulatory barriers to the expansion of effective treatment.

• West Virginia should expand access to effective substance use disorder treatment in hospital emergency departments and the criminal justice system in order to reach people at key moments of opportunity.

Overdose Reversal:

• West Virginia should require all first responders to carry naloxone and be trained in its use, support community-based naloxone programs, and authorize a standing order for naloxone prescriptions to improve insurance coverage.

• West Virginia should require hospital emergency departments and Emergency Medical Services to notify DHHR's Bureau of Public Health of nonfatal overdoses for the purpose of arranging for outreach and services.

Supporting Families with Substance Use Disorder:

• West Virginia should expand effective programs that serve families, including Drug Free Moms and Babies, home visitation programs, and comprehensive services for the families of children born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome such as Lily's Place.

• West Virginia should expand access to long-acting reversible contraception and other contraceptive services for men and women with substance use disorders in multiple settings.


• West Virginia should continue pursuing a broad expansion of peer-based supports.

The expert team charged with developing the opioid response plan includes:

• Jim Johnson, Director of DHHR's Office of Drug Control Policy, with 29 years of law enforcement experience including having served as both a police chief and director of the Mayor's Office of Drug Control Policy in Huntington.

• Dr. Sean Allen, Assistant Scientist in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and former senior policy advisor in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

• Dr. Jeffrey Coben, Dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health and Associate Vice President of Health Affairs and expert in the field of injury prevention and control.

• Dr. Shannon Frattaroli, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the lead authors of America's Opioid Epidemic: From Evidence to Impact, a report released by Johns Hopkins University and the Clinton Foundation.

• Dr. Sean Loudin, Associate Professor at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, with a specialty in neonatal-perinatal medicine and research and clinical interests that have focused on neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Comments on the plan will be accepted until Jan. 19. They can be emailed to bphcommunications@wv.gov or mailed to DHHR's Bureau for Public Health, c/o Opioid Response Plan Comment, 350 Capitol Street, Room 702, Charleston, WV 25301. They must be postmarked on or before Jan. 19, 2018.

ORIGINAL STORY 12/21/17 @ 6:58 p.m.

Health experts, state officials and members of the public are taking the next step in battling the opioid epidemic.

They spent Thursday afternoon analyzing and brainstorming ideas that could help solve the problem. It’s part of the opioid response plan which will be presented to Gov. Jim Justice in January.

Against a standing room only audience, national health experts, regional medical staff and the public presented ideas and shared startling statistics. One slide detailed the overdose rate literally went obsolete before the meeting’s start.

“The speed at which this crisis is moving, we cannot afford to wait for reports and committees and all that to happen and recommendations and then that will sit on a shelf,” explained Dr. Rahul Gupta with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

The meeting included what was termed a ‘social autopsy,’ putting faces to the 884 people who died from an overdose last year.

“It's very important to have people talk about it, remove the stigma,” Gupta said.

The meeting also took a hard look at the stigma surrounding addiction, a national expert telling the panel it dehumanizes people, pushing them farther away. That is something those on the ground know firsthand.

“A lot of people still look at it as a moral failure, you know you're weak and you just didn't turn your life around,” explained Joseph Deegan who works for Thomas Health helping addicts. He’s also a recovering addict himself.

Stigma, however, is just one of the barriers that will have to be overcome as we combat this crisis.

All of the discussion Thursday took place with a lit Christmas tree in the background, a subtle reminder that this issue doesn’t stop for the holidays.

The panel is going to take the recommendations from Thursday’s meeting, along with the more than 300 comments submitted online into consideration. They’ll then craft a plan that will be delivered to the governor in January.