W.Va. Legislature Interim Report:Drug crisis weighs heavy on state economy

By JIM WORKMAN

For The West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The current drug epidemic is a health crisis, a social services crisis and an economic crisis in the state of West Virginia:

That was the report from Bill Crouch, cabinet secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, to the Joint Standing Committee on Finance in the House of Delegates Chamber at the State Capitol on Monday during May legislative interim meetings.

The impact on West Virginia’s economy is “mind boggling,” Crouch said, explaining the state loses $8.8 billion each year as a result of the drug crisis, representing more than 12 percent of West Virginia’s GDP. The next closest state is Ohio at 5.32 percent of the GDP.

Crouch’s agenda was to give an allocation of Supplementary Appropriation of $10 million for Substance Use Disorder. He said while the money is “a start,” and he’s thankful for it, a lot more funds are needed to effectively combat the issues the Mountain State faces.

The numbers support Crouch’s claims. According to the DHHR, overdose deaths in West Virginia went from 735 in 2015, to 887 in 2016. The numbers for 2017 use preliminary data, until final data is available in August, but that number sits at 934 overdose deaths.

Further, the impact on child welfare in the state is “stunning,” Crouch said.

West Virginia takes more children from their home per capita than any other states, with 84 percent placed in foster care because one of both parents have a substance use disorder, Crouch stated.

West Virginia’s response to the crisis to date is making an impact, however, Crouch reported.

When the state legislature passed the Ryan Brown Fund bill in 2017, it allocated $21.6 million to increase the number of treatment beds in the state.

“That was a huge bill,” Crouch said. “Adding even more beds is critical.”

The legislature passed SB 272 and SB 273 in 2018, which provided for data collection and quick response teams, Crouch said.

“That was huge too,” he said. “It helped turn the spigot off for opioids in our communities.”

Of the $10 million allocation, about $1 million is allotted for the distribution of naloxone to first responders, more than 34,000 doses of 2mg naloxone syringes with atomizers that comply with the statewide protocol administration for EMS personnel.

Counties listed as priority on the list because of a higher risk for overdose deaths include Berkeley, Cabell, Harrison, Kanawha, Mercer, Monongalia, Ohio and Raleigh.

Other monies allocated include $500,000 for post-partum long-acting reversible contraception insertion, $500,000 for reproductive healthcare at harm reduction program sites and $750,000 for children’s mobile crisis response.

Crouch said the DHHR has “serious concerns” for children and youth, adding, “prevention is where the aim needs to be.”

Further allocations include $1,450,000 for the Partnerships for Success Program, aimed at reducing underage drinking and misuse of prescription drugs among youths, primarily in 12 targeted high-risk counties.

LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) programs were allocated $600,000 of the funds. Crouch said very valuable partnerships are established with law enforcement, “critical in breaking the cycle of jail/overdose/jail/overdoses,” he added.

“We need treatment instead of incarceration,” Crouch said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

Recovery residences were allocated $140,000, Collegiate Recovery programs $100,000 and Quick Response Teams $1,000,000.

Crouch praised the Huntington quick response teams, saying it can serve as a model for the state.

“We hope to have grants available to replicate (Huntington’s) services by July or August,” Crouch said.

Additional allocations include $150,000 for the West Virginia Peer Network, $500,000 for Higher Education Support for Those in Recovery, $500,000 to expand Drug Free Moms and Babies Programs and $2.59 million for the County Recovery and Empowerment Initiative.

Dave Hardy, cabinet secretary for the Department of Revenue, gave a review of the Fiscal year 2018 budget, reporting a “driving revenue,” with “growth in personal income tax and growth in private sector employment, especially construction and mining.”

Hardy predicted, “We are going to see good numbers moving forward.”

With the Roads to Prosperity Road Bonds going to market Monday, Hardy called it, “a big day.”

“It’s significant to our economy,” Hardy said.

Hardy also reported a state delegations trip to New York in April was fruitful, resulting in a move from negative to stable ratings, with ratings agencies on Wall Street.

“Things are looking up,” Hardy said. “West Virginia is being viewed more favorably.”