January 5, 2019
Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention holds inaugural meeting

At this writing, the first meeting of the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention is continuing in a basement meeting room of the Department of Health and Human Resources Capitol Street offices.


Marshall University professor Brian Gallagher, a pharmacist and attorney known as a firebrand since his days as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, is council chairman, appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to “fix the damn problem.” Gallagher called the council’s work to address the state’s substance abuse problem the “challenge of our lifetime.”


As is the case with most task force or council inaugural meetings, Gallagher outlined a robust plan, suggesting at least a one-hour meeting every other week after noting a similar council in Pennsylvania meets three hours each week. Gallagher said the council will try to replicate throughout the state some of the substance abuse treatment successes occurring in Cabell County. While Cabell has the highest number of overdose deaths in the state, officials there have set a national example in combatting the problem.


Gallagher said the council will be involved in everything from webinars and how-to papers to publishing research and providing advice and counsel on legislative issues. While the Department of Health and Human Resources has developed a draft strategic plan to address the opioid crisis, Gallagher said the council will exceed the limits of the DHHR plan by crossing jurisdictional lines in developing its plan.


Former Prestera Executive Director Bob Hansen, who has worked for the past 30 months as director of addiction services at Marshall University, is the new director of the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy, a revolving-door job since the office’s 2017 creation. The low-key Hansen, who has a reputation for taming the bureaucracy to get things done, called for collaboration in solving the substance abuse problem and admitted “collaboration is easy to talk about and hard to practice.”


DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch made his now-familiar argument for the need for valid data to make decisions, noting he may stop payments to providers with inadequate data. He promised to move staff to the ODCP, noting the office was created in 2017 with no funding. He explained how the original bill creating the office had been 180 pages and dropped to one page. Insiders at the time said the bill, which consolidated a number of cross-jurisdictional agencies in the ODCP, was too far-reaching and written without consulting the to-be-consolidated agencies. Accepting the creation of the office without funding was a last-ditch attempt to salvage a small portion of the governor’s 2017 legislative program to address addictions.


Last year, Crouch said he got a $10-million appropriation for the ODCP after lobbying for it up to the last day of the legislature but admits no amount of money is enough to address the state’s substance abuse problem. “Plans are everywhere,” and Crouch says the council is the appropriate place for planning activities.

State Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp updated council members on the state of West Virginia’s drug epidemic. Overdose deaths are being driven by an increase in the use of fentanyl. Deaths from prescription drugs are dropping. Methamphetamines are involved in about half of all overdose deaths.


While Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C have long been associated with activities such as needle-sharing, Slemp provided the nexus linking the state’s Hepatitis A epidemic (not caused by needle sharing) to illicit drug use, something some officials have been loath to discuss. She noted 72 percent of the more than 2,100 Hepatitis A cases reported in the state are linked to illicit drug use.


Legislature releases interim schedule

Here’s a list of the meetings we’ll be following. 


Monday, Jan. 07, 2019

Joint Standing Committee on Finance

10:00 a.m. – noon

Senate Finance

Overview of functions of the Judiciary–Chief Justice Beth Walker

Other Business


Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary

10 a.m.

House Chamber

No agenda available


Joint Committee on Government Operations

1 – 3 p.m.

House Chamber

-A discussion on small cell technology by Andy Emerson, outside counsel for AT&T, and by Lisa Dooley, Executive Director of the West Virginia Municipal League

-A presentation of a sunrise review of Advanced Pharmacy Technicians, Nuclear Pharmacy Technicians and Pharmacy Support Staff, submitted by the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy

-A presentation of a Performance Review of the Tax Division

-A presentation of a special report on the Distribution of Highway Maintenance Funds


Joint Committee on Health

3 – 4 p.m.

House Government Organization – 215E

Presentation/Handout survey of Services that can be paid for by Medicaid in a school setting. Cindy Beane, Commissioner, Bureau for Medical Services


Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability

4 – 5 p.m.

House Government Organization – 215E

Presentation – Serious Emotional Disturbance Waiver, Cindy Beane Commissioner, Bureau for Medical Services


Tuesday, Jan. 08, 2019

Post Audits Subcommittee 

9 – 11:00 a.m.

Senate Finance – 451M

-State Tax Division – Performance Review by the Performance Evaluation and Research Division – Presented by John Sylvia, Director

-Division of Highways Special Report – Districts 4 and 5 Maintenance Funding Allocation – Presented by Dr. Shree Baba Pokharel

-Post Audit Division’s 2018 Annual Audit Report of Volunteer Fire Departments

-Post Audit Division Report on Wireless Enhanced 911 Funds

-Post Audit Division Report on Chapter 30 Boards’ Year-End Fund Balances

-Draft Legislation per Prior Post Audit Recommendations

-Ongoing and Upcoming Audits


Joint Committee on Government and Finance

3-4 p.m.

Senate Finance – 451M

No agenda available


Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary/Joint Committee on Health

4-6 p.m.

No agenda available

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