WVPA Executive Director Richard Stevens was among those attending a meeting December 21 about how the state should respond to the opioid epidemic. The state Office of Drug Control Policy held the three-hour public comment meeting to get input on a plan to curb addiction and reduced overdose deaths, which will be written by a panel of public health experts and presented to Governor Jim Justice and the state Legislature.
The panel heard from representatives of health care associations, drug court administration, those working in the treatment and recovery fields and some of those who are recovering from addiction themselves.
Last year, drug overdoses killed more than 880 West Virginians in 2016. The state has the highest overdose rate in the nation, with lost lives increasing from 41.5 per 100,000 to 52.0 per 100,000. Christina Mullins, Director of the WV Office of Maternal, Child and Family Health, told attendees the number in 2017 is expected to exceed last year. She suggested providers to access the WV Board of Pharmacy Controlled Substance Monitoring Program before prescribing a Schedule II controlled substance.
State health commissioner Dr. Rahul Gupta said officials were pleasantly surprised at the turnout at the meeting but were not surprised at the interest in the drug epidemic. “We want recommendations from people’s experiences and not just from science,” said Gupta. He said he thinks the recommendations should include limiting the supply of prescription drugs a person may get at one visit to a pharmacist. It’s also important to get some people into treatment after an overdose, he said. Gupta also said education about substance abuse should start early. “No child should graduate high school or middle school without knowing the challenges of addiction,” he said.
It was also reported that seven of 10 people had a prescription for at least one controlled substance a year before their death, and four out of 10 had a prescription filled within 30 days of their death.
The state’s analysis also identified select high-risk factors for drug overdoses. Of those who died, 67 percent were male, 54 percent were between 35 and 54 years of age, and 79 percent had a high school or lower level of education. Seventy-five percent of them were unmarried. The head of the Office of Drug Control Policy, Jim Johnson, said the analysis will be helpful in working to reduce the number of deaths. He said it would take a collaboration between those working in the public health field and those in law enforcement.
Over 300 people submitted comments to be considered in developing the plan, said Gupta. He and his staff will write the report and submit it to the Governor and Legislature in January.