The lead story in last Sunday’s Gazette-Mail, “Meth-related overdose deaths hit record number in WV,” once again drives home the magnitude of the drug abuse epidemic in our state.
We have seen the depressing statistics over and over. Previously released data found that West Virginia has the highest age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in the country. West Virginia filled more opioid prescriptions than there are people in the state with 1,049 opioid prescriptions per 1,000 West Virginians.
We can identify many factors that drive a young person in a rural community to go down the path of drug abuse — even mixing uppers with downers in a crazy roller coaster cycle of self-destruction: poverty and lack of economic opportunities, peer pressure, etc. All must be addressed. Yet we have to ask what is necessary to save lives now.
Once a person is addicted, the legal and illegal drugs available in our communities today take a death-grip tight hold on a person. Yes, a person must be motivated and willing to try to break away from drugs. But drug abuse addiction medical experts tell us that a person can’t just walk away from these powerful drugs without medical intervention.
To try to go “cold turkey” has the real potential to kill a person. Drug replacement therapy and other medical intervention is necessary to prevent death, and social services are needed to help break the self-destructive mindset.
To save lives in the drug addiction fight, people across our state must have access to health care services. For one-third of our state population, access to health care services is through Medicaid.
The State Health Reform Assistance Network has called Medicaid “the states’ most powerful tool to combat the opioid crisis” and found that a conservative estimate of 1.2 million people with substance use disorders have gained access to treatment. Medicaid is the most significant source of coverage and funding for substance use prevention and treatment in West Virginia and the nation.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) was a leader state recently when it won approval of a Medicaid 1115 Waiver from the federal government to improve care and health outcomes by expanding Medicaid service for those with addiction. The waiver is key to our statewide strategy to combat drug abuse. The waiver will allow West Virginia to cover methadone, naloxone, peer recovery support, withdrawal management and short-term residential services to all Medicaid enrollees.
“West Virginia is No. 1 across the nation in overdose deaths,” Gov. Justice said. “Since this waiver is funded more than 80 percent by the federal government, it’s critical to protect our Medicaid budget so our state can meet its federal obligation for these vital services. We need to help our people get the care they need to get their lives back on track and stop these senseless overdose deaths.”
But sadly, the Republican leadership is the U.S. Congress is hell-bent on passing a huge tax cut bill for the wealthy and large corporations. In 2027, nearly 62 percent of tax benefits of the bill accrue to the top 1 percent. In West Virginia, 196,000 taxpayers in the bottom 80 percent of income distribution would see a tax hike. And the tax package will raise the federal budget deficit by a $1 trillion or more (even using the most favorable but questionable dynamic scoring methodology).
By creating this huge budget deficit, Congress is forcing cuts to spending on many programs — with the Medicaid program front and center on the chopping block.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito voted for the tax bill — voting for tax cuts for the wealthiest that will be paid for by spending cuts in programs that help lower- and middle-income families.
Sen. Joe Manchin voted no — and implored his Republican colleagues to slow down and work with Democrats on a bill that would help families working and yet struggling to make ends.
So I must ask this question: Which West Virginia senator is the one who can sincerely say that they care about West Virginians and fighting the drug addiction crisis in our state?