WV Governor Announces Opioids Plan, Appoints New Drug Czar

Gov. Jim Justice's plan will target two counties hit hard by the opioid epidemic. This will be a demonstration project trying to halt the flow of opioids, bring more addicts into treatment, and reduce overdose deaths.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Feb. 5 announced the appointment of Dr. Michael Brumage as director of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources' Office of Drug Control Policy, with DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch overseeing the Office of Drug Control Policy. "We have a West Virginian dying on average every 10 hours from an overdose. I am confident Dr. Brumage will take the bull by the horns and tackle this crisis head on," said Justice.

Eric Eyre of The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that, as drug overdose deaths are soaring in the state, Justice in a Feb. 5 news conference unveiled a plan to target two counties hit hard by the opioid epidemic, which his article described as the worst public health crisis in West Virginia's history. This will be a demonstration project trying to halt the flow of opioids, bring more addicts into treatment, and reduce overdose deaths.

The governor chose Wyoming County, in the southwestern part of the state, for the project and said the second county will be from the northern or eastern Panhandle part of the state, Eyre reported, adding that Justice indicated the state will spend at least $10 million on the project. His report said Justice explained that he did not select Cabell County, in which the city of Huntington is located and which has the state's highest overdose rate and numbers in the state, because its opioids problem might be too complex to address quickly.

"We know everything we've done thus far has failed," Justice said. "We're going to try to put together a playbook. I'm trying to come up with an answer to the problem."

Brumage has served as executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department since 2015 and is assistant dean for Public Health Practice and Service at the West Virginia University School of Public Health, as well as assistant clinical professor of Medicine at WVU's School of Medicine. According to the governor's announcement of the appointment, Brumage has a B.S. degree in chemistry and an M.D. from WVU, along with an M.P.H. degree in epidemiology from the University of Washington.

"Governor Justice has asked DHHR to make the drug crisis our number one priority," Crouch said. "I am absolutely thrilled to bring Dr. Brumage on board to help with this horrible crisis."

Brumage called the opioid crisis "the most challenging and damaging public health problem of my lifetime. The health, human, social, and economic costs are incalculable," he added. "We must tackle this challenge by bringing all our people together and systems to bear and reconnect with each other with open minds and open hearts. My charge will be connecting people and resources for the benefit of all."

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