By ERIC EYRE
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia public health officials are working with Johns Hopkins University professors to develop a plan to address the state’s opioid epidemic.
Last year, 884 West Virginians died after overdosing on drugs, the highest overdose fatality rate in the nation. Seven of 10 people had a prescription for at least one controlled substance a year before their death, according to a preliminary analysis by the state. And four out of 10 had a prescription filled within 30 days of their death.
“We are at a precipice and need to act with a sense of urgency,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, West Virginia’s public health commissioner. “These statistics are alarming, and every day we wait to take action is another day we are losing people to addiction and overdose.”
The state Office of Drug Control Policy has put together a panel of experts who will write the state’s opioid response plan. They are: Sean Allen, a scientist at Johns Hopkins; Jeffrey Coben, dean of West Virginia University’s School of Public Health; Shannon Frattaroli, a health policy expert at Johns Hopkins; Jim Johnson, former Huntington police chief who now heads the state’s drug control office; and Sean Loudin, a Marshall University professor who specializes in treating drug-dependent babies.
The panel plans to review drug treatment services and how the state’s substance abuse problem affects the child welfare system, according to a release.
“There is a critical need to identify a concise set of recommendations to stem the tide of overdose deaths,” said Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Earlier this year, Gov. Jim Justice signed into law a bill that established a state drug policy office, with its primary mission to combat the opioid crisis.
The panel is asking the public to submit comments and suggestions during the next 15 days at www.dhhr.wv.gov/bph. A public hearing will follow. Emergency responders, drug treatment counselors, law enforcement officers, social workers, state regulators and public health experts are expected to attend.
The panel plans to release a preliminary report the first week of January. A final report will be submitted to the governor in mid-January.
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