By ERIC EYRE
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers moved a step closer Wednesday with their plan to seize $24 million in recent drug lawsuit settlement funds and use the money to add beds at drug treatment facilities across the state.
The House of Delegates voted unanimously to pass a bill (HB 2428) that directs the state Department of Health and Human Resources to make extra treatment beds available by July 2018. The $24 million from recent settlements with drug wholesalers Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen would be placed in a special account called the Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention Recovery Fund — named after a Charleston man who died of a heroin overdose nearly three years ago.
“They need treatment, and we don’t have the facilities to do it,” said Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton. “This starts the ball rolling.”
House leaders said the DHHR could decide to build a new drug treatment center, add beds at existing state-run facilities or contract with privately owned facilities. Under the bill, the facilities would offer long-term substance abuse treatment and work with drug courts.
West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, and fatal overdoses reached a record number last year.
“In my area, drugs have become an absolute scourge,” said Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell. “They are ruining families, decimating our economy, putting young people in jail and on and on.”
The House-approved bill doesn’t require the DHHR to provide a specific number of treatment beds. The initial bill stipulated 600 beds, with 100 of those designated for Wood County.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office, the DHHR and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) each received $8 million from the January settlement with the drug wholesalers. Morrisey put his share in his office’s consumer protection account. DHHR and DMAPS placed their settlement monies in a special account at the State Auditor’s office.
Earlier this month, those two agencies announced plans to set up a grant program to distribute the money for drug treatment, prevention and enforcement measures. The agencies were putting the finishing touches on grant application procedures.
DHHR officials said they’re still reviewing the ramifications of the House bill. A Boone County Circuit Court order stipulated that the agencies would control the funds and use them as they see fit.
According to the bill, the DHHR must provide treatment beds only at facilities that accept Medicaid patients and give preference to West Virginia residents.
“This bill is the next piece of the puzzle,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. “This will give us the additional facilities and beds we need to provide hope and treatment opportunities to our fellow West Virginians who are desperately seeking help to combat their addictions.”
Also Wednesday, the House passed a bill (HB 2195) that requires county school boards to establish comprehensive drug awareness and prevention programs for students.
The bills next move to the Senate.
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