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State’s challenges, solutions help shape the opioids fight

September 24, 2018

As West Virginians know far too well, our state has struggled with the opioid crisis longer and harder than most. That’s not something we’re proud of, but it’s a reality that has shaped our ongoing response to this crisis. It’s also one that helped inform groundbreaking legislation the Senate passed last week, the Opioid Crisis Response Act.

In West Virginia, we better understand some of the causes of the crisis and how we can deal with them. We’ve discovered what is working; we’ve learned that the ripple effects go far beyond those struggling with addiction.

It’s those insights that enabled me to secure critical provisions in the Opioid Crisis Response Act, known as OCRA, that I’m confident will help strengthen efforts to fight the opioid epidemic across the country.

When thinking about “next steps” for fighting the opioid epidemic, one of the first things I realized was that the formula for state funding was not providing adequate resources to the hardest-hit states. I worked to make sure that formula was changed. As a result, OCRA reauthorizes state grants in a way that ensures states like ours — small states with very big problems —will begin to receive the resources we desperately need.

Something else I quickly realized was that we don’t have the treatment facilities or the workforce to adequately support individuals seeking treatment. To address these needs, I worked to create a grant program establishing Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers in the most affected areas, as well as provisions that will help increase and better prepare our health care workforce.

Another challenge addressed in OCRA includes the bad actors who attempt to take advantage of those in crisis, and by including the Opioid Addiction Recovery Fraud Prevention Act, we aim to hold fraudulent substance abuse treatment programs and recovery centers accountable.

OCRA also includes measures to address the need among employers for potential employees who are able to pass a drug test, as well as the need among those recovering from addiction for a path back to employment.

Reducing the number of prescriptions for opioids was another priority, as was reducing the amount of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. OCRA includes legislation I introduced with Sen. Rob Portman from Ohio, the STOP Act, to prevent the shipment of synthetic opioids into the country through the international mail system.

Another example of a policy that is not working is a 40-yearold regulation related to substance-use-disorder privacy records. This came to my attention following the tragic death of West Virginian Jessie Grubb. After hearing Jessie’s heartbreaking story, Senator Joe Manchin and I introduced Jessie’s Law, a bill that would make it easier for doctors to know if a patient has a history of opioid abuse — when requested by the patient. We made sure that Jessie’s Law was included in OCRA.

Of course, it’s not all about dealing with challenges related to the opioid epidemic. OCRA also focuses on many of the solutions that are working in West Virginia, solutions that other states can use.

One great example is our Quick Response Teams, or QRTs, which were piloted in Huntington. This three-pronged effort by medical professionals, mental health specialists and law enforcement ensures that individuals who overdose are contacted within 72 hours to help get them into treatment programs. Given the success of QRTs in our state, I worked to include a grant program in OCRA that will allow communities across the country to implement similar programs.

Something else we’ve seen in West Virginia are the “ripple effects” of the opioid epidemic. In our state, we are seeing an increasing number of children in foster care. There are more grandparents raising kids on their own. And there are more babies requiring neonatal care, as well as special services as they grow.

I worked with my colleagues to ensure that these issues were all addressed in OCRA through a range of provisions. One measure clarifies states’ ability under Medicaid to provide care for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome in residential pediatric recovery centers like Lily’s Place in Huntington. Others provide new resources to identify, prevent, and mitigate the effects of trauma related to the opioid epidemic on infants, children, and their families.

When we passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act two years ago, I referred to it as a good start. And while OCRA certainly isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a wonderful next step and an important part of a much broader solution.

Rest assured that I and my colleagues from both sides of the aisle will keep up the fight. We will fight back against those who are bringing these deadly drugs into our communities. We will fight for those struggling with addiction and seeking treatment, as well as for the children who are caught in the middle. And we will fight for every other person whose life is touched by this crisis.

Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is a U.S. Sentator.

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