BECKLEY, W.Va. — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey met Friday in Beckley with local officials to discuss efforts in combating the opioid epidemic, including settlement money from drug wholesalers, recently passed legislation and community partnerships.
The Attorney General’s Office has reached $47 million in settlements with drug wholesalers — money Morrisey said he hopes will be used to permanently solve drug problems in West Virginia.
He said many lawsuits are still pending, including suits against manufacturers, pharmacies and prescribers.
“We just want to go where the evidence leads us. We have to do the right thing,” Morrisey said.
He commended legislators who passed House Bill 2980, a bill imposing additional fees in certain civil actions in which part of the fee would go to a newly-established State Police Forensic Laboratory Fund.
“There’s a 4,600 case backlog,” the Attorney General said.
While he said the bill is a step in the right direction, he hopes to see additional resources to help rapidly eliminate the backlog.
“We have to have a criminal justice system that prosecutes individuals who are guilty, and exonerates those who are innocent. We need swift justice. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Multiple bills were also passed this session increasing penalties for drug traffickers.
“Police were telling us if they caught someone bringing in heroin, they laughed at a three year sentence,” said Delegate Lynne Arvon, R-Raleigh. “So we worked to create stiffer penalties.”
Morrisey also said the state must think about non-traditional entities in its resource allocation.
“Resources for beds are good, but we need to be broader in our thinking,” he said. “The work at Brian’s Safehouse is really important. There are opportunities around the state, potentially with seed money, to accomplish a great deal.”
Leon Brush, co-founder of Brian’s Safehouse, a faith-based residential addiction treatment center, agreed that more beds aren’t always the answer.
“If we made a skyscraper of beds, it doesn’t solve addiction. All it does is give them a place to put their head.”
He said a cultural change must take place in southern West Virginia; individuals need to find motivation to be producers for their community, not consumers.
Morrisey is also working on partnerships with pastors around the state in effort to create more faith-based treatment opportunities.
“I’m encouraged we can make a lot more progress in that area.”
He emphasized the importance of those on the ground, the men and women seated at the roundtable, including Raleigh County Sheriff Scott VanMeter, Senator Sue Cline, R-Wyoming, Recovery Point representative Elaine Vance and One Voice volunteer Debra Davis.
“It’s important we continue to engage the community, so we can solve problems,” Morrisey said. “You’re the community leaders. The more we can work together to gap-fill, the better for the entire state.”
Davis said One Voice has been operating since 2005 with no paid staff. She asked Morrisey to imagine what their organization could do with funding.
“Recovery should not be harder than getting pills, or finding the next drug deal,” Davis said.
She also highlighted the struggles some Medicaid patients in West Virginia experience when trying to obtain treatment services.
Del. Arvon noted that a law was recently passed to allow border states to provide services and receive Medicaid dollars, but faith-based services are not included in coverage.
Sen. Cline encouraged anyone with ideas or recommendations about the opioid epidemic to reach out to the members of the Legislative Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse.
“We have to keep attacking this,” Morrisey said. “It’s not just statistics. These are children, family members, friends. We all know people that are affected by this.”
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