By BRETT DUNLAP
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill, originally sponsored by a Wood County delegate, which can lead the way for the establishment of additional substance abuse treatment facilities in the state.
The House of Delegates voted unanimously, 90-0, in favor of H.B. 2428 on Wednesday.
Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, was the original sponsor of the bill and had been working on it in 2016 and early 2017, finally introducing it in the House in February.
“I am happy the bill came out the way it did,” Kelly said Wednesday.
The bill went through an hour of discussion on the House floor without any disagreements on the aims of what the legislation was trying to accomplish, Kelly said. “I was thrilled to death,” he said.
House Bill 2428 would require the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources to ensure that by July 1, 2018, there are additional beds provided for substance abuse at either state Bureau for Behavioral Health or health facilities locations or at privately owned facilities throughout the state, according to a press release from the House of Delegates.
The facilities are required to give preference to West Virginia residents, accept Medicaid patients, offer long-term treatment of up to one year, and work closely with local Adult Drug Court programs.
The facilities will be funded through a special revenue account, named the Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention and Recovery Fund, in memory of a victim of substance abuse whose mother has advocated for additional treatment facilities.
This fund will use proceeds from a recent prescription drug settlement negotiated by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and other revenue appropriated by the Legislature, the House said.
The bill passed was a committee substitute for the original bill introduced by Kelly which he said he had no problem with.
Kelly’s original bill called for the creation of 600 long-term treatment beds statewide with 100 being slated for Wood County. The House Finance Committee changed the bill so not to designate a specific number.
“They removed that as they thought it was too restrictive,” Kelly said.
The committee also removed any mention of specific communities to allow communities throughout the state to be able to have consideration for those treatment beds.
With the size of Wood County’s drug problem, Kelly was confident this area would see a number of the treatment beds being called for in this bill.
“This is a great bill,” he said. “This program is well on its way to assist the community in fighting the drug and alcohol addiction problem we have.”
In a prepared statement, House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said lawmakers are addressing the state’s substance abuse problem with a three-pronged approach: education, treatment and criminal prosecution.
“Earlier Wednesday we passed a bill requiring comprehensive drug awareness programs in our schools, and have already passed significant legislation to give our law enforcement and prosecutors better tools to prosecute drug traffickers,” he said. “This bill is the next piece of the puzzle.
“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.”
Earlier Wednesday, the House passed House Bill 2195, which would ensure that by no later than the start of the 2018-2019 school year county school boards will implement comprehensive drug awareness and prevention programs for students in grades K through 12 to receive instruction regarding the dangers of substance abuse.
Kelly said he left enough of his bill open to allow others, with more knowledge about drug treatment programs, to be able to add provisions. He was always seeking input from others to put forth the best possible bill, he said.
The bill will now go on to the Senate where he is expecting it will pass quickly. Kelly was told the Senate might add an amendment regarding how the fund is set up to pay for the program, but Kelly is fine with that as well and would still vote for it when it returned from the Senate for final approval in the House.
“It is not a bad thing; it is a good thing,” he said.
The bill was modified so it would go into effect after it was passed by both houses and signed into law by the governor so work can begin immediately in getting these treatment programs established, Kelly said.
“With the time and effort we put into this, I am happy it came out the way it did,” Kelly said.
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