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Lawmakers consider drug info repository


The Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Lawmakers in Charleston generally agree that the drug epidemic across the state is a top priority, and 11 state representatives — including Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley — co-sponsored a bill to create an office of drug control policy for the state, where information about drug prosecutions, overdoses and other relevant information would be collected.

HB 2620 — summarized as the West Virginia Drug Overdose Monitoring Act — was introduced to the House in late February. The bill was sent to the Committee for Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse and the Judiciary Committee, and ultimately passed the House on March 2.

The office of drug control policy would be overseen and controlled by the Division of Justice and Community Services, and the bill would require county prosecuting attorneys to compile data regarding criminal drug matters, according to the text of the proposal.

Kevin Knowles, Berkeley County recovery services coordinator, said solving the drug epidemic is going to need a holistic approach, including help from Charleston.

“Legislature is going to need to help us,” Knowles said. “We need money for long term care facilities.”

The potential legislature would be helpful in regards to documentation, according to Knowles. He explained overdose victims get a shot of Narcan from responders, then typically refuse treatment.

“Any follow up would be a benefit,” Knowles said.

In general, Knowles believes Berkeley County is taking steps in the right direction. According to Knowles, there has been a reduction of drug related overdose deaths in the county.

In the first quarter of 2016, there were 28 deaths in Berkeley County from overdoses. In the first quarter of 2017, the number was reduced to 15.

Furthermore, the overall amount of overdoses decreased for the first quarter as well. In 2016, Knowles said the county reported 190 overdoses. In 2017, Knowles said the county reported 170 with only 10 days to go before the official end of the first quarter.

He attributes the decreases to better community awareness, faster availability of information in regards to bad batches of drugs, community education and prevention methods.

“We’re trying to do what we can,” Knowles said. “It’s never going to go away completely though.”

One of the provisions of the bill requires each county prosecuting attorney to compile data about the criminal charges, substance, weight, disposition and other requested information of each criminal drug matter handled by the prosecuting attorney’s county office.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Harvey said he does not think the bill would be too demanding for county prosecutors.

“The benefits would outweigh the burden,” Harvey said. “It would help bring in more funding for grants as well.”

Harvey said if the bill becomes law, he expects to see an uptick in drug statistics because of the more uniform and systematic reporting process.

Although the bill would create more work for first responders and prosecuting attorneys, he said creating an office of drug control policy for the state would ultimately be beneficial.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but we can’t move fast enough,”Knowles said.

The bill is currently being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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