West Virginia

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Department of Human Services

DHHR Announces Development of Response to Opioid Abuse


The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) today announced steps to develop an opioid response plan through public engagement and a partnership with regional and national experts to combat the opioid epidemic. The plan will be delivered to Governor Jim Justice and the West Virginia Legislature by mid-January 2018.

In 2017, Gov. Justice signed into law House Bill 2620 creating the Office of Drug Control Policy under the direction of DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch and the supervision of Dr. Rahul Gupta, State Health Officer and Commissioner for DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health. A vital mission of the Office of Drug Control Policy is to develop the opioid response plan and recommendations to address this crisis.

“There is a critical need to identify a concise set of recommendations to stem the tide of overdose deaths in West Virginia,” said Cabinet Secretary Crouch. “We anticipate the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy to implement a comprehensive statewide strategy across DHHR’s bureaus through the use of the Medicaid 1115 Waiver and its expanded treatment services for those with substance use disorder to tackle the ever-growing impact of substance abuse on the child welfare system.”

Last year, 884 West Virginians lost their lives due to overdose, resulting in the highest overdose death rate per capita in the nation. Preliminary analysis of overdose deaths in West Virginia in 2016 demonstrates that seven out of ten people who died had a prescription for a controlled substance filled within a year of their death, and two in five overdose victims had a prescription filled within 30 days prior to their death. 

“We are at a precipice and need to act with a sense of urgency,” said Dr. Gupta. “These statistics are alarming and every day we wait to take action is another day we are losing people to addiction and overdose. The DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy will coordinate with a panel of public health experts from West Virginia University, Marshall University and Johns Hopkins University. Our goal will be to utilize available evidence and best practices to provide the highest priority recommendations for immediate action to reduce overdose deaths and the impact of the opioid epidemic on our families and communities.”

The expert panel will include:
Dr. Sean Allen, Assistant Scientist in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Allen has advanced training in geospatial and longitudinal data analyses.  He formerly served as a 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. He has achieved international recognition for his accomplishments in the field of injury prevention and control.

Dr. Shannon Frattaroli, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University. She is 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.

Jim Johnson, Director of the DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy. He has 29 years of law enforcement experience and has served as both a police chief and director of the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy in Huntington.  

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

Participation of the Johns Hopkins University faculty is made possible with support from the Bloomberg American Health Initiative.

There will be multiple opportunities for public participation, including a fifteen-day public comment period, beginning today, for persons who want to share ideas or recommendations for addressing the opioid crisis in West Virginia at www.dhhr.wv.gov/bph.   

A public meeting will be held following the conclusion of the public comment period to include treatment providers, first responders, social service providers, law enforcement, regulatory agencies, public health experts and others.

A release of the draft plan for public comment is expected the first week of January 2018.

Contact Information

Media contact: DHHRCommunications@wv.gov or (304) 558-7899
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