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Ohio Valley health officials applaud White House on opioid measure

By LINDA COMINS

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — Area political leaders applaud President Trump’s declaration of the opioid epidemic as a national public health emergency, while health officials hope the action brings more resources to fight the drug crisis.

Dr. William Mercer, health officer for the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, said, “I think President Trump is doing something very positive here. … I think it’s going to be a plus.”

Mercer said, “I’m not sure how it would affect us locally. … We definitely need to focus on prevention, which we are doing here. At the other end is treatment. We know there are very few places to send people for inpatient or outpatient treatment.”

Mercer also hopes the federal plan eventually will include research money for development of non-opioid medication for pain management.

Howard Gamble, administrator of the county health department, said, “We need to see the nuts and bolts of that proposal, and what it will mean for a municipality or government on a local level.”

Gamble cited a need for additional resources to obtain Narcan — the trade name for the drug naloxone — inexpensively for reversal of opioid overdoses and to expand needle exchanges and harm-reduction programs.

“We have a great program here for both Narcan and needles,” he said. “Other agencies have been working on issues for quite a while. The question is will there be some additional financial resources or equipment materials resources? We have only so many funds.”

Gamble said other components, such as personnel and resources for mental health programs, also are needed to address the overall opioid issue.

“We need those resources in place to prevent people from abusing drugs,” he said.

Regarding funding, Gamble said, “Right now, public health dollars are stretched. A lot of public health dollars were used to respond to disasters. At some point, additional financial resources are going to need to be allocated to expand or to be able to provide certain services.”

He added, “We’ll have to wait to see the details in his declaration, which may take a while. There will be rules, regulations and policies to develop.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean for health sciences at West Virginia University, said, “However you interpret the level of severity of this problem, as an emergency or urgent issue, it doesn’t reduce the reality that West Virginia leads the country in opioid death.”

Marsh said, “We do need ongoing help from the federal government. We need more resources, such as antidotes and needle-reduction programs. … Long term, we really need to help with rebuilding our communities and rebuilding hope, and to believe that there is a great future in our state.”

The WVU official said, “It is still our opportunity as a state, as a community, to start to care for these people. We know our representatives in Congress, whether in the House or the Senate, are very aware of the gravity of the situation and are working hard to gain the appropriate resources so they can continue to evolve and expand helping people.”

U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, were present at the White House for the announcement Thursday.

Capito said, “I think this takes a dramatic step forward in fighting this national crisis. … It enlists a whole nationwide response to say, ‘We’ve got to stop this.’”

She thinks Trump’s declaration will make it easier for the federal government to expand services and will produce real results for West Virginia in terms of treatment, enforcement, education and medical issues.

“I think it’s the best way for us to get the best results,” Capito said.

Capito anticipates additional access to naloxone will be part of Trump’s overall plan. She added, “I’m committed to making sure naloxone is widespread.”

Regarding funding to combat the public health emergency, she said, “We need more money, but we need a framework. I think the president’s statement gives us the impetus on the Appropriations Committee to continue with robust funding.”

She lauded the president’s promise to crack down on drug dealers and to shut down the flow of fentanyl, a powerful narcotic blamed for many overdose deaths.

Manchin applauded numerous aspects of the president’s plan, including expanding telemedicine, improving childhood education about substance use, helping recovering addicts find jobs and increasing access to treatment beds.

“West Virginia faces unique challenges in the crisis, especially the rural areas in our state. The expansion of telemedicine to these areas is a game-changer and will allow people struggling with substance use disorder the ability to receive opioid treatment prescriptions without seeing a doctor, which is a huge hurdle for many West Virginians,” he said. “A large part of recovery and becoming a contributing member of society is finding meaningful employment and President Trump’s expansion of the Dislocated Workers Grants will help people who are struggling to find work because of their disorder, which works with the goals of my Clean Start Act.”

Portman said, “There is no doubt that this heroin and prescription drug epidemic is a national crisis, and it’s getting worse, not better. The president’s decision to declare this epidemic a public health emergency is a positive step forward, and I’m hopeful it will lead to a better coordinated federal response to this crisis.”

He added, “I have spoken to the president in depth about this epidemic and the devastating impact it is having on our communities in Ohio and around the country, and I know he is committed to addressing it in a comprehensive way. I look forward to seeing the final recommendations of the president’s opioid commission in the coming weeks.”

Portman said, “While Congress has made some progress in addressing this crisis by enacting the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act and the 21st Century CURES Act last year, we can and must do more. I’m pushing the Senate to act as quickly as possible on four bipartisan bills, including the STOP Act to help stop dangerous synthetic drugs from being shipped into our country; the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, which will help stop overprescribing; the Medicaid CARE Act to lift the cap on Medicaid funding for mental health and substance abuse facilities and the CRIB Act to help newborns born dependent on drugs recover.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey expressed support for Trump’s declaration.

“President Trump’s emergency order is a good first step; however, more will be needed,” Morrisey said. “The president’s action recognizes the seriousness of opioid abuse. It also exemplifies the need for all branches and levels of government to pull together to tackle this terrible epidemic.”

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