After careful consideration, and a proposed "raise" that amounts to a slap in the face by the GOP-led Legislature, public school teachers and service personnel are getting ready to raise their voices at the state capitol tomorrow and Saturday.
As a small business owner and a proud product of Cabell County Schools, I owe so much to a number of great teachers; so do my sons. When I became a candidate, I decided to focus on three priorities for West Virginia: giving a voice to children and working families, fully and immediately addressing the drug epidemic, and reversing the exodus of our state’s young adults. The GOP’s de-valuing of our public workforce affects all three of these major issues.
I know it’s been brewing for several years. It started with giving away tax breaks to out-of-state corporations, putting a growing hole in West Virginia’s budget. Last year, the voices of educators and insured employees were taken off of the PEIA Funding Board, then the Legislature only funded half of the $20 million proposed to keep the agency solvent. They refused even to hold a public hearing in Huntington! And PEIA was essentially ordered to make up the deficit by holding you accountable for the rising costs.
From all I’ve heard and seen in the first half of the 2018 session, the GOP majority has been going in a negative direction. But public employees are standing up to say “we’ve had enough!” In marching on the Capitol and filling up those marble halls on Saturday, teachers and service employees are raising the voice of democracy over the paid influence of big money corporate donors. You’re making a difference now, and you have the power to make an even bigger difference in the 2018 elections!
I believe that to save West Virginia, we must grow and diversify our economy to keep our young adults here and productive. We must strengthen education from pre-K to post-secondary. And we must provide a living wage for those who provide vital human services. I stand ready to support you in your fight to stay, teach and serve the children and families of our great state, and look forward to hearing from you soon.
I attended the public meeting in December, and commented in writing before this plan was drafted. (I'm pleased to see that our excellent home visiting programs are considered part of the equation.) Before tackling anything else—like raising the speed limit on the interstate, or taking any more measures to reduce the state's coffers—our WV Legislators need to move full speed ahead on these recommendations, and come up with the revenue to implement them.
There's more to accomplish in the long term, but lives hang in the balance right now. Our Legislative leaders are fooling themselves if they think our business climate and workforce readiness will improve without taking on the drug epidemic. GET MOVING!
Proposed Opioid Response Plan Released for Public Comment
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) today released a proposed opioid response plan developed through public engagement and expert input. The preliminary report was prepared by an expert panel after review of more than 300 public comments, a public meeting on December 21, 2017, and input from state agencies.
“This crisis has plagued our state for too long,” said Bill J. Crouch, DHHR Cabinet Secretary. “Governor Jim Justice has asked that we utilize all resources at our disposal to combat this epidemic. The effects of the drug problem are impacting all parts of DHHR including – Behavioral Health, Children and Families, Medical Services, and Public Health. Beginning today, our primary focus is to fight this problem on all fronts, and this plan is a crucial step in meeting that goal. Governor Justice has pledged his full support to DHHR to battle this ever-growing issue.”
Public comment on the proposed plan will be accepted via email at email@example.com beginning January 11, 2018 and ending on January 19, 2018. Comments may also be mailed to DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, c/o Opioid Response Plan Comment, 350 Capitol Street, Room 702, Charleston, WV 25301. They must be postmarked on or before January 19, 2018.
“This is a public health crisis of the highest order,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health and State Health Officer. “We look forward to additional public input and to saving lives in West Virginia with this strategic plan.”
The plan notes that West Virginia suffers from the highest rate of drug overdose mortality in the United States, with more than 880 deaths in 2016. Driving this public health crisis is the opioid epidemic, a dual challenge involving both prescribed opioids, such as oxycontin, and illicit opioids, including heroin and fentanyl.
The proposed opioid response plan includes high-priority, short-term recommendations in six areas:
The expert team charged with developing the opioid response plan includes:
Jim Johnson, Director of DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy, with 29 years of law enforcement experience including having served as both a police chief and director of the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy in Huntington.
Dr. Sean Allen, Assistant Scientist in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and former senior policy advisor in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Dr. Jeffrey Coben, Dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health and Associate Vice President of Health Affairs and expert in the field of injury prevention and control.
Dr. Shannon Frattaroli, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the lead authors of America’s Opioid Epidemic: From Evidence to Impact, a report released by Johns Hopkins University and the Clinton Foundation.
Dr. Sean Loudin, Associate Professor at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, with a specialty in neonatal-perinatal medicine and research and clinical interests that have focused on neonatal abstinence syndrome.
The proposed plan and e-mail address for submitting comments are available on the DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health website at www.dhhr.wv.gov/bph.
The principle of prevention
Preventing avoidable tragedies is both more compassionate and more cost effective than ignoring problems until they blow up.
When bad things happen—when a crime is committed, a bridge collapses, or a consumer product is found to be poisonous or dangerous, people regardless of political party look to their government for help. I want to live where our infrastructure is sound, our food and medicines are safe, unwanted pregnancies are prevented, and our children get what they need to become healthy, well-educated and productive citizens.
Today we are living the costs of failing to invest in prevention. Failing to invest in prevention (as in the examples shown below), has led to the exploding costs of incarceration, emergency response systems and medical care we are seeing now. It's like we handed the devil a credit card.
“It is the deadliest drug overdose crisis in US history. In 2016 alone, drug overdoses killed more Americans than the entire Vietnam War and car crashes, gun violence, and HIV/AIDS ever did in a single year. In total, more than 170 people are estimated to die from overdoses every day in the US, and most of the deaths are linked to opioids. Yet so far, there’s been a lack of policy action to end the opioid epidemic...If the opioid epidemic continues unabated, one high-end forecast by STAT estimates that 650,000 more people will die from opioid overdoses in the next 10 years…."
How do we keep this from happening? This well-researched article by Vox Media presents four broad categories of policy-based weapons to fight the multi-tentacled monster that has attacked my community and our country.
Here they are in a nutshell:
1) Prevent new generations of opioid users (by addressing the proliferation of prescription painkillers)
2) Make addiction treatment easier to access than opioid painkillers and heroin - (by increasing access to evidence-based alternatives to opioids such as medication-assisted treatment).
3) If we can’t stop people from doing drugs, we can make it less dangerous (through various harm-reduction strategies).
4) Address the other problems that lead to addiction (at the very least, to stop future epidemics).
“We know what to do, but we need to dedicate the resources to do it.”
In the coming months I'll be dedicating a lot of personal energy to my campaign to get into the WV Legislature to help in this epic fight to save lives. But the fight can't wait!
As a "pre-candidate" for the House of Delegates, I am committed to using the coming months not just to practice the "art of political campaigning," but to learn as much as I can about the circumstances and needs of families in our community.
I was privileged today to be in the audience at a League of Women Voters-sponsored screening of the Netflix documentary "Heroin(e)" - click here to watch the trailer. The film's screening was followed by a panel presentation with the three remarkable local women featured in the film, Cabell County Judge Patricia Keller, Barboursville's Necia Freeman of Brown Bag Ministry, and Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader,
These women, who represent our community so well, were quick to credit the many people who are working hard to make a difference in a city with an overdose rate 10 times the national average. In addition to remarking on the documentary itself, they shared some observations about the lives ravaged by (and occasionally rescued from) the opioid epidemic:
The relentless compassion shown by Judge Keller, Ms. Freeman and Captain Rader was inspiring. If enough of us commit to taking steps to be part of the solution, perhaps their example can fuel an epidemic of hope and recovery.
Take about 30 minutes to watch last night's 60 Minutes segment, "Opioid Crisis Fueled by Drug Industry and Congress." This is absolutely sickening, and this is why we must vote out federal and state lawmakers who are complicit in greedy, deadly deeds!
Raising our voices
Issues, insights and day-to-day adventures along the campaign trail