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W.Va. lawmakers, U.S. attorney, police react to president’s opioid emergency declaration


The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va.  — West Virginia lawmakers, officials, members of law enforcement and others in the Mountain State applauded President Donald Trump’s efforts Thursday toward tackling the deadly opioid epidemic.

The president earlier in the day had directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

Bill Crouch, Cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources

This declaration will allow some federal grant money to be used for a range of efforts to fight opioid abuse, would roll back some laws and regulations and will establish several new anti-drug initiatives.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the president’s measures will increase the state’s ability to seek federal aid.

“This public health crisis declaration will give states like West Virginia the flexibility to enlist help from federal agencies and resources to combat this epidemic,” Manchin said. “I have long pushed for many of the actions that the president is taking, including expanding access to treatment options and educating our children on the risks associated with drugs, especially opioids, in order to make long-term improvements.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who also attended the announcement, said the declaration proves the president is serious about finding solutions to this important problem.

“This takes a dramatic step forward in fighting this growing crisis,” she said. “It makes it a true national priority.”

Capito said the funding and initiatives made possible by the declaration will allow those struggling with addiction and recovery to get the help they need.

“This will make it easier for the federal government to respond and will improve and expand access to services which are desperately needed,” Capito said. “I’m really pleased about what we’ve seen today, and I think it will result in real results for West Virginia on the treatment side, enforcement side, education side and the medical side.”

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said the declaration, while helping those across the nation, will be particularly impactful in West Virginia.

“We strongly support President Trump’s decision to officially label the opioid epidemic a public health emergency,” he said. “West Virginia is at the epicenter of this crisis. We are experiencing the highest rate of opioid deaths in the nation. Rural communities are struggling to keep up with this epidemic and need additional help. As ground zero for this public health emergency, it is time West Virginia received the resources it deserves, and today’s action is a big step towards accomplishing that.”

John Walker, Bridgeport police chief and chairman of the Greater Harrison Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, said local law enforcement agencies welcome any opportunity for additional funding to combat the epidemic.

“The fight on the drug problem, this epidemic we have in the communities, is an expensive one,” he said. “It has to be addressed at all levels of the government. If there is a resource out there that the federal government can pass down to the local level, it would be a huge help.”

Harrison Sheriff Robert Matheny, also a member of the Harrison Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force Board of Control, said they would “take all the help we can get fighting this crisis.”

“It’s been a long time coming, and I’m surprised it’s just now being recognized. I hope that efforts of the White House are true efforts. I hope that they send true dollars for true solutions because our area is suffering,” Matheny said.

William J. Powell, U.S. attorney for Northern West Virginia, said the state “is at the epicenter of the opioid epidemic.”

“Every 10 hours, someone in our state dies of a drug overdose. While we wait to hear the details of the of this declaration and what it will mean for the Mountain State, we will continue to work as diligently as ever in prosecuting those who bring these deadly drugs and connected violence into our communities. We will also continue our efforts to educate our youth on the extreme dangers involving substance abuse,” Powell said.

Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., who attended Trump’s announcement Thursday, said the president “shared a powerful message” about the realities of drug addiction.

“The president is committed to tackling the disease of addiction and stopping the flow of illegal drugs into our country,” Jenkins said. “This announcement is an important step on the road to recovery for our nation. I am proud to work with the president and his administration to advance this multifaceted strategy to combat the opioid crisis and save lives.”

Bill Crouch, Cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said the opioid crisis has hit West Virginia the hardest out of any state.

“We are losing a generation of West Virginians to drug abuse, and in some cases, two generations,” he said. “Any additional resources that could be directed toward this fight are critically important in our efforts to slow the progression of a problem that is devastating so many families and communities in West Virginia.”

Staff Writer Charles Young can be reached at 304-626-1447 or [email protected]

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