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Cabell, Wayne Co. lawmakers take aim at West Virginia’s addiction crisis


The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —  Cabell and Wayne county legislative representatives are sponsoring or supporting numerous bills aimed at curbing drug addiction in the Mountain State, including a bill introduced Monday that would increase penalties for delivering drugs that result in death.

House Bill 2003 creates a new felony offense for administering, dispensing, giving, prescribing, selling or distributing any controlled substance that results in the death of another person.

The charge would carry a penalty of 10 to 40 years in prison.

Local delegates Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, and Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, are sponsors of the bill. The bill was referred to the Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse and then to the Judiciary.

Rohrbach said the bill puts teeth behind drug trafficking laws.

“We are tired of seeing overdose after overdose,” Rohrbach said. “Those who deliver the drugs need to be held accountable.”

Rohrbach and Sobonya also are sponsors on House Bill 2329, which would make it a felony to manufacture, produce or possess fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is often used to “cut” heroin, and was proven to be the cause of the 28 overdoses that occurred in just a few hours in Huntington in August.

Prison time would increase as the amount of fentanyl the person possesses increases. The bill was referred to the Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse then to the Judiciary Committee.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 329, also has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell. It is also co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne. The bill would also make the manufacture, sale and distribution of fentanyl a felony.

“We cannot hold accountable the manufacturers and dealers who are creating and selling these deadly substances without clearly defining relevant terms,” Woelfe said in a press release. “The bill will criminalize the unlawful creation and distribution of fentanyl derivatives which created an unprecedented rash of overdoses.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further consideration and is referenced to the Committee on Health. The maximum criminal penalty provided in the bill would be 20 years confinement.

Multiple bills increasing penalties for trafficking drugs into the state have been introduced in both the House and Senate.

Rohrbach and Sobonya also have introduced bills in the House regarding different facets of the fight against substance abuse,

House Bill 2195, introduced by Rohrbach and co-sponsored by Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, would require all county boards of education to implement comprehensive drug awareness and prevention programs for all students grades K through 12.

“We have to start educating kids early,” Rohrbach said. “We have to fight this on all angles.”

Sobonya’s bill would assist treatment of addiction by creating an Addictions Treatment and Recovery Fund.

House Bill 2457 would collect and transfer 5 cents per ounce of the uniform price of alcoholic liquors sold in the state to the fund. It would not raise taxes on alcohol. The funds would be for the development and support of programs such as community-based support programs or community-based corrections programs. The funds could only be used for programs relating to prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.

Sobonya is also a co-sponsor of House Bill 2422, the Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention and Recovery Fund Act, along with Rohrbach and Carol Miller, R-Cabell. The bill would create a fund administered by the state Department of Health and Human Resources to be funded through federal grants, gifts and income from investments.

She said she also is working with the new DHHR secretary, Bill Crouch, for the need to improve or create a database system to help track Narcan and overdose data.

“We want to provide and require increased treatment opportunities to help end the rotating door of Narcan administration,” Sobonya said. “We are looking at ways to relate a system where the money follows the drug offender into treatment in lieu of incarceration and researching the ‘Recovery Kentucky’ model of recovery for our state.”

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