West Virginia receiving federal grant for substance abuse treatment

CHARLESTON — West Virginia is getting an infusion of federal dollars to help the state with its massive substance abuse crisis.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the state more than $14 million to curb abuse of opioids.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources announced Monday it plans to use the grant for medication-assisted treatment to gradually step down drug abusers off heroin, OxyContin and other strong opioids.

“Using evidenced-based treatment is key to solving this crisis,” said Christina Mullins, commissioner of the department’s Bureau for Behavioral Health. “This grant is critical, as it provides essential funding for treatment to help West Virginians get the care they need. The aim is to expand services to as many of those who are impacted by this serious issue.”

U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito helped secure the State Opioid Response Grant. Both are members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

“West Virginia has been at the frontlines of the fight against the opioid epidemic and is now ground zero for recovery efforts,” Manchin said. “This funding will enable West Virginia to provide our citizens with the help that they need in order to combat the opioid epidemic in our state.”

“The drug epidemic has devastated so many families and so many communities across West Virginia, and federal funding like this plays an important role in helping us fight back against the opioid crisis,” Capito said. “I am glad to see this critical funding come to our state and will continue to advocate for these much-needed resources.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, medication-assisted treatment used prescription drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings the drug users suffer during the rehabilitation process. These programs are handled by medical professionals, who reduce the dosages gradually.

Several drugs are used to treat opioid abusers, including methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone. Drug addicts also receive counseling and other assistance to help them stay off opioids.

According to the state’s Opioid Response Plan released last year, “evidence indicates that medication-assisted treatment reduces the risk of death, relapse, infectious disease transmission, and chance of going to prison, increases employment, and greatly improves quality of life. Expansion of high quality substance use disorder treatment with medications have contributed to substantial declines in overdose at the population level.”

In February, the department announced the second of two pilot projects partnering with West Virginia University for substance abuse and recovery. Focusing on Berkeley and Jefferson counties, the pilot works to expand access to prevention and early intervention, as well as treatment, overdose reversal, family support and recovery. The first was launched in Wyoming County last year.

At the end of 2018, Gov. Jim Justice appointed Bob Hansen, director of addiction services at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University, as the permanent director for the state Office of Drug Control Policy. Brian Gallagher, the chief governmental affairs officer for Marshall Health, chairs the new Council on Substance Abuse and Treatment which meets Wednesday in Charleston.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid-related deaths increased from 16.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2006 to 43.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016. According to the According to the Trust for America’s Health, that number increased in 2017 to 57.8 deaths per 100,000 people.