Public session on steps to fight drug abuse

By The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dozens of people packed a public comment session on the opioid epidemic as experts called for greater collaboration between law enforcement and public health workers, suggesting specific steps to curb prescription drug abuse and help the addicted.

The West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy held a three-hour meeting Thursday, drawing experts and others who offered their recommendations on how the state should respond to the opioid epidemic, The Charleston Gazette reported. The panel heard from drug court administrators, those working in the treatment and recovery fields, and also some people who are recovering from addiction.

“I think we have a very good sense of where things should go,” state health commissioner Dr. Rahul Gupta said.

A plan is to be crafted by a panel of public health experts and presented to Gov. Jim Justice and the state legislature.

The newspaper reports drug overdoses claimed more than 800 lives in West Virginia last year.

Gupta said he thinks the recommendations should include limiting the supply of prescription drugs a person may get at any one visit to a pharmacist. He also said education about substance abuse should start early and it is important to get some people into treatment after an overdose.

Officials also presented an analysis of the state’s 2016 overdose deaths. It found, among other things, that seven of 10 people had a prescription for at least one controlled substance a year before their death. Four out of 10 had a prescription filled within 30 days of their death, according to the figures.

The analysis also identified select high-risk factors for drug overdoses. Of those who died, 67 percent were male, 54 percent were between 35 and 54 years of age, and 79 percent had a high school or lower level of education. Seventy-five percent of them were unmarried.

Jim Johnson, the head of the Office of Drug Control Policy, said responding to the epidemic will require closer coordination between law enforcement agents and the public health experts as authorities seek to reduce the number of deaths from drug abuse.

So far, Gupta said more than 300 people have submitted comments ahead of a Dec. 30 deadline. He added that the state Bureau for Public Health is also accepting comments at its website.


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