State’s proposed opioid response plan to be finalized

WHEELING — West Virginia officials soon will be finalizing a proposed opioid response plan focusing on six key areas for the state.

This proposal includes high-priority, short-term recommendations for prevention, early intervention, treatment, overdose reversal, supporting families with substance use disorder, and recovery.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released the proposed plan Jan. 11. Public comment on the plan ends today.

An expert panel — a team consisting of a DHHR official and representatives from West Virginia, Marshall and Johns Hopkins universities –prepared the preliminary report. The panel reviewed more than 300 public comments, conducted a public meeting in Charleston and received input from state agencies.

After final public comments are reviewed, the report will be completed and submitted to Gov. Jim Justice and the West Virginia Legislature. DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch said this plan is a crucial step in combatting the opioid epidemic.

The plan offers two recommendations in terms of prevention: West Virginia should expand the authority of medical professional boards and public health officials to stop inappropriate prescribing of pain medications, and the state should limit the duration of initial opioid prescriptions.

Three main recommendations are suggested for early intervention: expand awareness of addiction as a treatable disease by developing a public education campaign to address misinformation and associated stigma; expand promising law-enforcement diversion programs to help people access treatment and achieve sustained recovery; and strengthen support for lifesaving comprehensive harm reduction policies by removing legal barriers to programs that are based on scientific evidence and by adding resources.

The panel suggests that West Virginia require a statewide quality strategy for opioid use disorder treatment and remove regulatory barriers to the expansion of effective treatment. The experts also think the state should expand access to effective substance use disorder treatment in hospital emergency departments and the criminal justice system.

Regarding overdose reversal, the plan calls for requiring all first responders to carry naloxone and be trained in its use, support community-based naloxone programs and authorize a standing order for naloxone prescriptions to improve insurance coverage. The plan also suggests that hospital emergency departments and emergency medical services be required to notify DHHR’s Bureau of Public Health of nonfatal overdoses for the purpose of arranging for outreach and services.

Two proposals address supporting families with substance use disorder. In the first, the panel suggests the state expand effective programs that serve families.

However, the second proposal concerning families may be controversial. The plan states, “West Virginia should expand access to long-acting reversible contraception and other contraceptive services for men and women with substance use disorders in multiple settings.”

In terms of recovery, the panel said the state should continue pursuing a broad expansion of peer-based supports.