Huntington knows all too well that West Virginia has struggled with the opioid crisis longer than most states. While that reality has been tough, it has also helped us become a leader in fighting back.
West Virginia has become ground zero for recovery efforts. We’ve tried a lot of innovative things. Some have worked, and others we need to improve on. It’s these lessons and insights that enabled me to help shape groundbreaking legislation Congress passed and President Trump signed into law one year ago: the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, also known as the SUPPORT Act.
The SUPPORT Act built upon some of the things we learned as we implemented a previous bill, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act known as CARA, which did a great job with a lot of the straightforward, immediate efforts of the opioid crisis.
The SUPPORT Act was about letting people know that they have a reason to live.
After a year since this landmark legislation became law, we’re already seeing the results here at home.
Take, for example, the State Opioid Response Grants. I worked in a bipartisan way with Senator Shaheen from New Hampshire — a state that is relatively similar to West Virginia in terms of this crisis — to change the funding formula to get more dollars to our state.
Under the old rule, funding to combat the crisis was divvied out according to population size. This meant that smaller states like West Virginia were getting the short end of the stick, even though we were experiencing the crisis in the most acute way. This is exactly why we pushed hard to change this funding formula so when the money is now divvied out, overdose deaths per capita are taken into account.
This critical change ensures funding is specifically targeting communities who need it the most. Now that the SUPPORT Act is law, we are already seeing this making an impact. Through this change, we’ve been able to expand critical programs like the successful WVU Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment (COAT) model of Medication Assisted Treatment, Peer Recovery Coaches, the Drug Free Moms and Babies program, and Project Engage.
Another way Congress is responding to the opioid crisis is stopping drugs like fentanyl from entering the country.
As chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, CBP and ICE fall under my jurisdiction. These agencies actually play a significant role in stopping the flow of illicit drugs into our country.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit the southwest border several times and see these efforts firsthand. Something I learned in my visits was that drugs coming into our country from Mexico are smuggled in at ports of entry.
In my chairmanship, I made sure to include extra funding for searches at ports of entry. I’ve worked on other pieces of legislation as well, such as the STOP Act, which would prevent the shipment of synthetic opioids into the country through the international mail system by imposing tough new requirements on the U.S. Postal Service and CBP.
The other provision is called the Interdict Act, which allows CBP to buy chemical screening devices that can detect the drugs as they enter the U.S.
I have also worked with DHS to create and fund a partnership with Marshall University to monitor illicit corners of the internet, known as the “dark web,” to gain information that will be vital to stopping the flow of illegal drugs into our country.
I’m a firm believer that communities on the ground have the best ideas as to how to help their friends and neighbors. Huntington is a perfect example. At one point, the city was leading our state in the number of overdoses per day. Instead of sitting back and continuing to let this happen, the community worked together to develop innovative solutions.
One of the most effective strategies Huntington came up with was Quick Response Teams, or QRTs. These teams contact individuals who overdose within 72 hours of their overdose to help get them into treatment programs. As a result, Huntington found the risk of that individual overdosing again decrease significantly. In fact, non-fatal overdoses fell as much as 26 percent in Huntington.
It’s community-based solutions like this that inspired me to make sure the SUPPORT Act provided resources for communities like Huntington to start or expand programs for coordination of care and treatment after an overdose.
This is the hope I have in West Virginia.
Recovery is real here, and while we still have a long way to go, the SUPPORT Act is helping and it’s an important step in this broader ongoing fight.
As we keep up this fight, I’ll continue working to deliver similar solutions, and I’ll continue fighting for every person whose life is touched by this crisis.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito is a Republican representing West Virginia.