W.Va. House bill creates office to monitor overdoses

CHARLESTON — A bill that would create an office to track drug overdoses to have information to apply for grants passed the House of Delegates and was sent to the Senate.

H.B. 2620, known as the “West Virginia Drug Overdose Monitoring Act,”which passed in the House last week 97-1, would create a central repository of drug overdose information in West Virginia, called the “Office of Drug Control Policy.”

The original bill was sponsored by Delegate Cindy Frinch, R-51st, of Monongalia County and was co-sponsored by Delegate Ray Hollen, R-9th, of Wirt County, among others, including House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-40th, of Kanawha County. Hollen also serves part of Wood County.

The bill would provide a central data collection point to track overdoses and arrests in the state, Hollen said. That information could be compiled and used as supporting data in research and as the state applies for federal grant money to combat the state’s drug abuse epidemic, he added.

”These grants would be used to combat substance abuse, prosecute substance abuse as well as educate, treat and prevent substance abuse,” Hollen said.

There are a lot of agencies, from law enforcement to emergency medical services, now dealing with overdoses and there was a need to compile the data to get a better handle on the problem statewide, officials said.

According to the bill, within the Division of Justice and Community Services, there will be a designated office known as the Office of Drug Control Policy.

”The purpose of the office is to provide administrative support, research, coordination, planning and management of funding relating to the prevention, prosecution, reduction and treatment of substance abuse in the state,” the bill said.

The office would be tasked with collecting, compiling and analyzing crime, justice and overdose data in the state relating to substance abuse, generating statistical and analytical products for criminal justice professionals and policy makers to establish a basis for sound policy and practical considerations for the criminal justice system, according to the bill.

The office would be tasked with providing recommendations to the governor and Legislature as to policies and statutory changes. They will be involved in data collection, data analysis, data sharing, research and law enforcement needs.

”Both fatal and nonfatal drug overdoses, caused by abuse and misuse of prescription and illicit drugs, have emerged as a vital health crisis in the State of West Virginia,” the bill said. ”The day-to- day response to this crisis is dealt with by a number of entities throughout the state, including law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services, hospitals and medical examiners.

”The Legislature finds that the collection of data as to fatal and nonfatal overdoses and collection in a central repository is an important step to combat and reverse this trend.”

Hollen said this bill is one of a number of bills to combat the current drug epidemic.

HB 2620 is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gov. Jim Justice has also put forward legislation to stop West Virginia’s drug crisis. The bills aim to crack down on out-of-state drug dealers and give the people of West Virginia a shot at making a full recovery to re-enter the workforce.

“A critical part of growing jobs in West Virginia is beating back the drug epidemic,” Justice said. “Our people are suffering because there aren’t enough treatment options in our state. I will fix that. We’ve got to get our people well so they can get back into the workforce and contribute. It’s real simple, West Virginia won’t see a jobs explosion until we have a drug-free workforce, and my plan will make that a reality.”

S.B. 297 and H.B. 2668 would increase the minimum penalties for drug trafficking from 1-15 years in prison to 3 to 15 years with a fine of $25,000 with the possibility of both imposed on those found guilty.

S.B. 297 is in the Senate Judiciary Committee, while H.B. 2668 is in the House Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse Committee.

S.B. 366 and H.B. 2657, known as the Second Chance for Employment Act, makes nonviolent felony offenders eligible for a preliminary expungement order five years after serving a term of incarceration or supervision. It will allow West Virginians who’ve earned a second chance to enter the workforce.

If the individual continues to live without committing a crime for five years following the preliminary order, he or she is eligible for a permanent order of expungement of records, the governor’s office stated.

S.B. 366 is in the Senate Judiciary Committee, while H.B. 2657 is in the House Judiciary Committee.

The governor is also proposing a 5 percent licensing fee to fund treatment options In West Virginia.

”The governor’s legislation will establish a 5 percent licensing fee that will be applied to the successful bidders of state road projects. This money will go directly toward treating addiction,” the governor’s office said, adding Justice wants to create long-term treatment centers in Charleston, the Northern Panhandle and the Eastern Panhandle.

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