CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael praised the U.S. Senate for the passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act on Monday, by a vote of 99 to 1. The Opioid Crisis Response Act, a comprehensive opioid response package composed of 70 individual bills, will support West Virginia’s local and statewide efforts to combat the deadly opioid epidemic.
“Today’s historic vote has brought hope to West Virginians and the millions of Americans who have suffered for too long from our nation’s deadly opioid epidemic,” said West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael. “I commend our nation’s leaders in the Republican-led Senate, especially West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a co-sponsor of the bill, for the passage of the landmark Opioid Crisis Response Act. I am confident that this critical opioid response package, which will fund treatment and prevention efforts while also increasing enforcement against those that supply illegal drugs, such as fentanyl, to our communities, will help save hundreds of thousands of lives and turn the tide against this deadly epidemic. West Virginia looks forward to working in partnership with leaders in Washington to implement the solutions highlighted throughout this important legislative package, in order to ensure West Virginians receive the assistance they need to lead a healthy and successful life.”
Last month, the West Virginia Health Statistics Center reported that drug overdose deaths increased to 1,011 in 2017 — the first time that drug overdose fatalities surpassed 1,000. 870 of those were related to opioid use, accounting for more than 86 percent of all fatalities. Additionally, preliminary data shows that 498 drug overdose deaths have occurred in the first six months of 2018.
A key provision within the Opioid Crisis Response Act is the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act, also known as the STOP Act, which would increase the United States’ mail security by requiring the United States Postal Service to collect electronic information on mail entering the U.S. in order to stop fentanyl and other deadly synthetic drugs from entering the country. On August 22, 2018, President Donald J. Trump urged the Senate in a tweet to “firmly STOP” fentanyl from “killing our children and destroying our country” by passing the STOP Act.
According to data from the CDC, out of more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2017, fentanyl and fentanyl analogs were responsible for approximately 30,000 overdose deaths — nearly 42 percent of all overdose death.
“Synthetic opioids and fentanyl have wreaked havoc on families and communities across our state in recent years. The latest data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that since 2010, deaths related to synthetic opioid use have quadrupled, from 102 to 435 deaths. It’s reassuring to know that our leaders in Washington have taken the necessary steps to close the loopholes in our current federal laws so drug traffickers can no longer exploit a major weakness that was in our mail service’s security systems for years. The implementation of tough-on-drugs policies such as the STOP Act, which President Trump has persistently supported, will be critical to curbing this national crisis,” added Carmichael.
Under Republican leadership, West Virginia has partnered with President Donald Trump’s Administration to enhance drug enforcement and ensure that the Mountain State has the necessary resources to ensure West Virginians receive the assistance they need to live healthy lifestyles. Last fall, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced the opening of the first new field division in 20 years in Louisville, Kentucky to help with drug issues in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. More recently, in July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (S.O.S.), a new program that seeks to reduce the supply of deadly synthetic opioids and identify wholesale distribution networks and international and domestic suppliers in 10 regions with the highest drug overdose rates in the nation. Two of these regions include the Northern and Southern Districts of West Virginia.
Additionally, on August 29, 2018, President Trump announced the granting of a record $91 million to support the Drug-Free Communities Initiative, which aims to support 730 “drug-free communities” across the United States that have been hit hardest by the opioid epidemic. $1 million of that funding was granted to eight West Virginia programs to help bolster substance abuse prevention efforts across West Virginia communities, especially among youth.
“West Virginia finally has a champion in the White House who has made combatting the opioid crisis a key mission of his presidency. The strong leadership and actions demonstrated by President Trump and his administration to counter our nation’s deadly opioid epidemic have been critical in improving our local and statewide treatment, prevention, and enforcement efforts, and are helping to put West Virginia on a path to recovery,” concluded Carmichael.
Since taking over the legislature in 2015, Republican leadership in West Virginia has passed and signed into law 35 bills to counter the opioid crisis, using a three-pronged approach to address this epidemic: treatment, education and criminal prosecution.
Among those bills is SB 401, which removes a significant financial burden from families by requiring private health insurers to cover six months of inpatient substance abuse treatment immediately upon diagnosis, without needing prior authorization. West Virginia is only the second state in the country to pass this law.
The Republican-led Legislature has also passed several bills, signed into law, that increased access to opioid antagonists for healthcare providers, pharmacists, and school nurses. These medications can be administered to save the lives of those who have overdosed on opioids.
Additionally, the legislature passed and the Governor signed into law HB 2195, which requires a comprehensive drug awareness and prevention program to be implemented in all public schools no later than the start of the 2018-19 school year.