DHHR releases West Virginia opioid crisis response plan

The Department of Health and Human Resources released an opioid crisis response plan Thursday. It was prepared by a panel of public health experts after a review of public comments, a public meeting on Dec. 21 and input from state agencies. (MGN Online/Pixabay)

West Virginia health officials have released a plan focusing on preventing, treating and reversing opioid abuse.

The Department of Health and Human Resources released the response plan Thursday for the state. It was prepared by a panel of public health experts after a review of public comments, a public meeting on Dec. 21 and input from state agencies. The plan has been released for public comment.

Some suggestions in the plan are to limit the duration of the initial opioid rescriptions and require all first responders to carry naloxone and be trained to use it.

The plan eventually will be presented to Gov. Jim Justice and the state Legislature. It focuses on six areas, including prevention, early intervention, treatment, overdose reversal, supporting families with substance use disorder and recovery.

Here is the released plan:


• 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.

“This crisis has plagued our state for too long,” said Bill Crouch, DHHR Cabinet Secretary, in a news release from the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources. “Governor Jim Justice has asked that we utilize all resources at our disposal to combat this 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 (Thursday), 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.”

Public comments will be accepted through Jan. 19 at bphcommunications@wv.gov. Comments also are accepted through mail to DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, c/o Opioid Response Plan Comment, 350 Capitol Street, Room 702, Charleston, WV 25301. Mailed comments must be postmarked by Jan. 19.

West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country, according to the release. More than 880 deaths were reported in 2016.

Drivers for the public health crisis is a dual challenge involving both prescribed opioids such as oxycontin and illicit opioids including heroin and fentanyl, the release said.

“This is a public health crisis of the highest order,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health and State Health Officer, said in the release. “We look forward to additional public input and to saving lives in West Virginia with this strategic plan.”

The team who will develop the opioid response plan includes Jim Johnson, director of DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy; 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; Dr. Shannon Frattaroli, associate professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Dr. Sean Loudin, associate professor at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

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