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W.Va. House Substance Abuse Committee now permanent

By Lexi Browning

For The West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Initiatives to combat substance abuse in schools and implementation of rehabilitative alternatives for first-time offenders are among items on the 2017 legislative calendar for the West Virginia House of Delegate’s Select Committee for Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse.

Committee members met Wednesday to establish their agenda and declare the committee permanent.

Speaking to the committee, Michael Goff, administrator of the West Virginia Board of Pharmacists’ Controlled Substance Monitoring Program, said data collection efforts made on behalf of the CMSP program have led to declining prescription overdoses rates. The data, Goff said, also supplies accountability to prevent overprescribing in West Virginia pharmacies.

Goff also presented a list of recommendations made on behalf of the West Virginia Board of Pharmacists, which includes marking gabapentin as a controlled substance for its “concerning” response to other controlled substances and requiring all prescribers to utilize the CSMP program.

The CMSP digital monitoring system allows physicians and pharmacists to monitor their patients’ prescription pickup frequency throughout the state and is updated daily. Information collected by the CMSP is accessible to all West Virginia pharmacists and is available to medical examiners and law enforcement under specific circumstances.

Approximately 731 overdose deaths were recorded in the mountain state in 2015, and Goff said he anticipated “much higher” numbers for the 2016 review.

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D – Cabell

During his State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice referenced the widespread opioid epidemic in West Virginia, warning it could “cannibalize” the state if it were not controlled quickly.

Referencing the Governor’s comments, committee member Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said he hoped to work closely with the administration to tackle the epidemic.

Hornbuckle said he aimed to expand the Classrooms Not Courtrooms initiative, which he co-founded with several Cabell County principals and the superintendent, into a statewide effort to combat juvenile delinquency and supply additional counseling services in schools for West Virginia students, parents and teachers.

“We want to reach the students and their homes, particularly where the parents are struggling with addiction,” Hornbuckle said. “We can do all we can in a school setting, but if we’re not teaching the parents proper coping skills and preventative measures, then a lot of things go by the wayside.”

Hornbuckle also suggested offering an alternative rehabilitation option for nonviolent offenders.

Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette

“We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can just enforce punishments, because it has to be a combination of treatment and rehabilitation,” Hornbuckle said. “We need the community piece too, which is giving nonviolent offenders a genuine second chance and making sure they’re afforded that.”

Committee Vice-Chair Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, said transitioning the committee from select, or temporary, to a standing committee reiterated the seriousness of the matter and legislators’ desire to prevent the epidemic from becoming a multi-generational issue.

“I grew up in a very small town, and the drug epidemic is prevalent in Mount Hope in Fayette County,” Kessinger said. “I’ve seen how drugs have impacted students I went to school with and how it’s ravaged their families and communities. I’ve seen it firsthand, and it’s destroyed the fabric of our society and the stability of our community.”

All West Virginians, Kessinger said, have been personally or indirectly impacted by substance abuse.

“It’s a deeply-ingrained problem,” Kessinger said. “At times, job creation can be a great form of recovery, but if we don’t have jobs, it’s challenging. I’m really tired of simply talking about the problem. It’s time to throw a cog in the system. It’s time we stop talking about it and actually do something to change it.”

Kessinger said she looks forward to working with members of both parties to produce a solution.

The committee will meet regularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:30 p.m. in the House Government Organization Committee Room 215-E.

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