As West Virginia's drug epidemic continues to grow, so too must our efforts to fight back.
Our state is no stranger to the heartbreak and devastation that accompanies drug addiction. According to a recent study, West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation. In fact, West Virginia's drug overdose death rate is more than double the national average with 34 overdose deaths for every 100,000 West Virginia residents.
Pair these staggering statistics with the recent surge of heroin abuse, and the uphill battle for a drug-free West Virginia appears steep.
While there is still a long road ahead, we are making meaningful strides toward combating the drug epidemic.
This week, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced $13.4 million in funding for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) across the country.
Part of that funding, $2.5 million, will establish the Heroin Response Strategy, an unprecedented partnership among five regional programs including Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey and Washington/Baltimore to address the severe heroin threat facing those communities through public health-public safety partnerships across 15 states.
The Appalachia HIDTA also will receive nearly $400,000 to advance a range of drug use prevention initiatives in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
For the past several months, I have been working tirelessly with ONDCP to bring more awareness to West Virginia's specific needs in order to crack down on trafficking, addiction and tragic overdose deaths in the Mountain State.
ONDCP's announcement comes on the heels of Director Michael Botticelli's visit to West Virginia for my drug control roundtable in Morgantown earlier this year. We had the opportunity to share ideas for expanding evidence-based public health and public safety approaches to reduce drug use and overdose deaths, and we both walked away from that meeting with a greater understanding of the resources needed to take on the drug challenge.
Director Botticelli isn't the only federal official engaged in this fight. Michael Gottlieb, HIDTA's national program director, and Tom Carr, executive director of the Washington-Baltimore HIDTA, both attended the Drug Prevention Summit I hosted in Martinsburg in April, and pledged to complete a needs assessment for an in-patient treatment center in West Virginia at the event.
In addition to convening drug prevention officials for several discussions about combatting drug abuse, I am pursuing solutions through legislation.
In February, I introduced the Stop Drugs at the Border Act of 2015 with Sen. Donnelly, D-Ind., to combat increased heroin and methamphetamine trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border, and I have also co-sponsored the FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act, The Opioid Overdose Reduction Act of 2015 and The Protecting our Infants Act.
Lastly, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have been a strong voice for HIDTA program funding. With my support, the committee recently passed the FY2016 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, which includes $245 million for the HIDTA program - a significant increase over the president's request for $194 million.
Funding for these programs is critical to help states like West Virginia take on the scourge of drug abuse.
As the drug epidemic rages on in West Virginia and around the country, my commitment to conquering this crisis grows even stronger.
ONDCP's creation of a Heroin Response Strategy and award of $400,000 for drug prevention initiatives in the Appalachia HIDTA will significantly boost West Virginia's capabilities.
Although we cannot fix this problem overnight, the more we work together at the federal, state and local levels to pursue smart approaches to drug enforcement, treatment and prevention, the greater chance we have of saving lives and ending the devastation of drug abuse.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, represents West Virginia.