Rockefeller backs drug treatment bill

CHARLESTON – Legislation intended to curb the substance abuse epidemic in West Virginia was co-sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

The Excellence in Mental Health Act supports the modernization and construction of behavioral health facilities to provide mental health and substance abuse services to provide greater access to services for West Virginians in need of treatment, Rockefeller said on Monday. Specifically, states like West Virginia that need a variety of mental health services can apply for federal grants to build or upgrade existing facilities that offer a wide range of settings from traditional counseling to inpatient detoxification.

The act that would help close the behavioral health treatment gap in West Virginia, among the primary identified barriers to curbing the state, he said. About 21,000 West Virginians are in need of addiction treatment and don’t receive it, he said.

“I’ve heard from West Virginians who want treatment for themselves or their loved ones and can’t get it – like the grandmother whose only option for her addicted grandson was incarceration. In the midst of such an overwhelming prescription drug abuse epidemic, we have to give people an answer – and a place to turn,” Rockefeller said. “This legislation represents a critical piece of the solution to a severe and complex issue in West Virginia. The right kind of treatment works, and it helps people turn their lives around.”

The legislation also bolsters West Virginia’s community mental health and addictions system by enabling organizations including addiction treatment programs to offer a whole-person approach to treating patients with difficult needs. By integrating mental health treatment with other medical services, the legislation would help prevent the development of health problems that are costly to state and federal governments, Rockefeller said.

The bill was introduced in March 2012 by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The bill is the latest in Rockefeller’s years-long, ongoing work to curb the prescription drug abuse epidemic in West Virginia. Just last week, he reintroduced his comprehensive Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which, among other provisions, requires the development of quality standards for substance abuse treatment services.

Roundtable discussions on prescription drug abuse will be held beginning 9 a.m. Thursday at the University of Charleston in Charleston and at Marshall University in Huntington. Rockefeller, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Director Gil Kerlikowske of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy will attend.

The schedule of the hearings is

* 9 a.m., Marshall University, Forensic Science Center where Rahall, Rockefeller and Kerlikowske for a conversation with federal, state and local officials on efforts to address the investigation, interdiction and prosecutorial challenges of prescription drug abuse and trafficking in the state and region, and to identify where and how Federal resources might be helpful. The roundtable will include discussion of the Drugh Control Policy office collaboration with states in support of efforts to address doctor shopping and pill mills, federal support for drug law enforcement task forces by improving intelligence exchange and information sharing and partnering with local law enforcement agencies for training initiatives.

Panelists, including U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, will discuss efforts underway and the resources needed to address the crisis in the region.

* 2 p.m., University of Charleston, Robert C. Byrd Center for Pharmacy. Rahall, Rockefeller and Kerlikowske will meet with health care providers, policy experts and family representatives to discuss greater access to substance abuse and mental health treatment programs.

Rahall is a co-chairman of the Congressional Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus. Last week, Rockefeller re-introduced companion legislation, the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, a multifaceted approach to addressing the unsafe use of prescription pain killers.