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Kelly wants West Virginia Legislature to tackle treatment facility issue

PARKERSBURG — One of the reasons for a proposed moratorium on the opening of new residential drug treatment facilities in Parkersburg is to give the West Virginia Legislature time to address the issue of their rapid proliferation.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, wants to get to work on it even before the start of the next regular legislative session in January.

“We’re getting inundated with these recovery centers,” he said. “It’s an issue so far that we haven’t been able to control too much.”

During the 2021 session, Kelly introduced a bill that would have required drug or alcohol abuse treatment facilities to be approved for a certificate of need by the West Virginia Health Care Authority before they could open. An exemption for such facilities was granted by the Legislature in 2017 to combat the drug epidemic.

The bill never made it out of committee, but Kelly plans to reintroduce it in 2022.

“I have every intention of running that bill again,” he said.

Parkersburg City Council on Tuesday will consider the first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit the establishment of any group residential facilities or group residential homes in the city until June 30, 2022. The city had 30 state-licensed substance abuse treatment beds in 2017, but that number has jumped to more than 200 this year, plus another 80 beds at the Harmony Ridge Recovery Center in the White Oak Village facilities at Mountwood Park.

Statistics provided by the city and state earlier this year indicate about a quarter of all licensed recovery beds in West Virginia are in Wood County.

City officials have said there is a link between the influx of out-of-town individuals coming to treatment facilities in Parkersburg and an increase in homelessness and related crimes.

Kelly said he’s heard similar concerns about increasing treatment facilities from people in Cabell and Ohio counties as well. He believes state and municipal governments both need to have “skin in the game” to address the matter.

“I think (Parkersburg) Mayor (Tom) Joyce has taken a step in the right direction” with the proposed moratorium, he said.

Kelly wants to form a working group with fellow legislators to examine ways to address the issue.

“It’s something that we’re going to try really hard to find a solution to,” Kelly said. “We would like to bring some of the city officials in and talk to them about some of the issues they’re having.”

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said via email that while the group won’t be an official function of the Legislature at this time, “I look forward to continuing to communicate with (Kelly) about his concerns.”

Kelly said he’s spoken to other state officials about the topic, including Attorney General Patrick Morrissey.

“We are taking a look at the issue and understand that the Legislature may be evaluating it next session,” Morrissey said via an emailed statement.

One challenge is that under federal laws, such facilities are exempt from state and local zoning regulations because addiction is classified as a disability.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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