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Opioid crisis national emergency could help people recover in West Virginia

President Donald Trump declares a national emergency for opioid crisis. Former addicts and law enforcement officers are hopeful that this could help people dealing with addiction in West Virginia. (WCHS/WVAH)

President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency, which will give the federal government expanded powers and additional resources to help people overcome addiction.

"There’s several times that I should have died," Ashley Keiffer said. "I didn't have a home, I had nothing."

It takes lives and changes people; the opioid crisis is hurting families and communities across the country.

Keiffer almost lost it all.

"I got into methamphetamines, and I've been arrested 16 times," Keiffer said.

Keiffer said she made every excuse to keep going back to what was hurting her the most, but her last time in jail and she couldn't do it anymore. She went into a detoxification program then to the Lifehouse in Huntington and finally turned her life around.

"I came home, I got my own place, I got my driver's license back after like $4,000 in debt, got my kid full time, I have an amazing job,” Keiffer said.

Keiffer hopes more can find recovery too, especially after the president declared the opioid crisis a national emergency.

It will allow the government to access emergency funding to increase grants for treatment programs and adjust rules regulating those who can seek help.

"That's what we need. We need treatment. If I never went to long-term treatment especially I would have never made it,” Keiffer said.

Every 10 hours, a West Virginian is dying because of drugs and the state is No. 1 in overdose deaths at 41.5 for every 100,000 residents.

Lt. Steve Cooper with the Charleston Police Department said the epidemic puts a strain on the police force's resources.

"It is a huge crisis here," Cooper said. "We have overdoses every single day."

Police officers sometimes have to use Naloxone several times a day on the same person.

The counter-overdose drug could save a police officer or a child's life if they come in contact with dangerous drugs.

The declaration could ensure law enforcement always has Naloxone and provide more to police stations.

"Charleston Police Department stays fully stocked with naloxone but it’s expensive so that comes out of our budget so that means there might be less money for training or for a police officer to have to stay over and work on an arrest,” Lt. Cooper said.

Cooper and Keiffer believe this move by the Trump administration is one in the right direction.

"The fewer addicts we have the lower crime rate will be, the more children who won't have to watch a parent overdose," Lt. Cooper said.

"Everybody that’s in recovery, just help the next person," Keiffer said.

Keiffer now works at First Choice Services, which is a help line for anyone dealing with addiction or suicidal thoughts. She focuses her time on helping others find the help they need.

There are long waits for treatment centers in the state, and she hopes that will change so more people can reach recovery.

The national emergency could trigger some very specific tools for federal and state governments such as waivers to some Medicaid rules that forbid the federal reimbursement for admissions to mental health hospitals, which have traditionally been a state responsibility. It could provide grants from the public health emergencies fund. A formal presidential declaration when coupled with a public health emergency would give the administration additional powers to waive health regulations, pay for treatment programs,and make overdose-reversing drugs more widely available.

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