UPDATE | West Virginia awarded millions to fight the opioid crisis

Published: Dec. 13, 2019 at 11:59 AM EST
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UPDATE 12/13/19 @ 5:10 p.m.

Major federal funding is coming to West Virginia to help combat the opioid epidemic. A $38 million Department of Justice grant will be used to reduce crime and improve public safety.

"We're making record and historic efforts on the ground," United States Attorney Mike Stuart said. "But ultimately this comes to be about victims. We want fewer victims, and we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to support folks who are fighting so hard for us."

This grant aims to invest on the local level in opioid treatment programs and law enforcement efforts to help people before they get in major trouble.

"On the one hand we want to prosecute those folks, drug dealers from Detroit and Akron who violate the conscious of West Virginia," Stuart said. "But at the same time we want to love the victims, we want to love our children, we want to make sure they grow up and become whatever they dream that they can become."

One program that will get substantial funding through this grant is the West Virginia Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) that has operated in parts of the state since 2014.

The purpose of LEAD is to steer low-level drug offenders away from prosecution and into treatment.

"It's just anyone who has a substance abuse problem and commits a crime, a non violent crime," Prestera CEO Karen Yost said. "These are the people who break into your garage, steal your lawn mower so they can get money to buy drugs."

Prestera has participated in the program since the beginning and has helped more than 250 people stay away from the criminal justice system. Sixty-six percent of program participants have not been re-arrested.

"It's proven to be successful," Yost said. "There are programs across the country, and we are trying to expand it because as we are dealing with recovery and this epidemic."

"This is a health crisis, of a huge magnitude," Yost continued. "The strategies and the solutions are multifaceted, and there are no solutions that are going to fix this whole problem."

Prestera has been using grant money to help grow LEAD across West Virginia.


United States Attorney Mike Stuart joined a top official with the U.S. Department of Justice Friday to announced what he calls historic funding to help the state of West Virginia fight back against the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Awards of almost $38 million will soon flow into the Mountain State to combat crime and improve community safety, Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan says.

Officials say nearly $8 million of that will support families, children and crime victims caught up in the nation's opioid crisis.

"The opioid crisis has destroyed far too many lives and left too many Americans feeling helpless and hopeless, and the people of West Virginia have borne the brunt of it," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sullivan for the Office of Justice Programs.

According to United States Attorney Stuart for the Southern District of West Virginia, the funding provided through the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program will support healing of the most innocent victims of the opioid crisis — our children — and further efforts to get individuals with substance use disorder much needed treatment.

"U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart and I recognize that despite our record numbers of prosecutions, the opioid crisis in our state requires a plan of attack that includes education, community outreach and healthcare support," said U.S. Attorney Powell for the Northern District of West Virginia.

The Handle With Care initiative will be on the receiving end of a $6.5 million grant. Handle With Care is a statewide program that serves children exposed to trauma and violence. Funding also expands the West Virginia Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program, which steers low-level drug offenders away from prosecution.

The remaining $1.5 million in Justice Department grants will support mental health services for at-risk youth in Berkeley County and a research-based peer recovery and data analysis program in the city of Charleston.

West Virginia is the epicenter of the opioid crisis, with the highest age-adjusted rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 833 West Virginians lost their lives to opioids in 2017.

"I've said over and over that we need to do everything humanly possible — and invest every single dollar we can — into helping the people caught up in the horrible opioid crisis once and for all," said Governor Justice. "I congratulate and thank the many hard-working people who made it possible for us to receive this funding that is going to allow us to make a difference in the lives of countless West Virginians. But we can't stop here. We all need to dig deep and work even harder now to ensure that this funding is used effectively and efficiently to help provide relief to as many West Virginians as possible."

West Virginia’s opioid-related grants are part of more than $333 million in Justice Department awards going to states, tribes and communities to combat opioids and other drugs.