Column: Reinvesting in West Virginia, Fighting Back Against Substance Abuse


During the five years I have served as your governor, I have made it a priority to develop a skilled workforce, reduce our state’s prison and regional jail inmate population, rehabilitate those offenders when possible, and fight the battle against substance abuse. I know there is more work to be done, and I’m pleased that additional attention is being paid to these critical issues. But I also am proud of what we have already accomplished.

In 2011, I established the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse (GACSA) and charged members with developing a comprehensive plan that addressed both local community and statewide concerns. Since then, more than 3,000 people have attended 96 public meetings to share specific recommendations to combat drug abuse in communities across West Virginia.

Ideas discussed during these regional meetings have led to a number of critical legislative and administrative reforms, including the adoption of a prescription drug monitoring database, establishing stricter regulations for opioid treatment centers and pain clinics, and expanding access to Naloxone – a life-saving drug – to first responders and family members of those struggling with addiction.

By expanding access to and reinvesting in community-based treatment services, we’re giving those struggling with addiction the help they need to get on the road to recovery.

In 2013, with bipartisan support from the executive, legislative and judicial branches and with the help of the Council of State Governments (CSG), I signed into law the West Virginia Justice Reinvestment Act, establishing a new and comprehensive path forward to improve West Virginia’s justice system.

This legislation outlined three specific objectives: strengthen community-based supervision; focus resources on inmates at risk of re-offending; and invest in drug courts and other community-based treatment options to tackle substance abuse in West Virginia.     

Since then, we have implemented a number of new programs through Justice Reinvestment to strengthen parole and probation capacity and effectiveness, develop the use of graduated sanctions for probation and parole violations, ensure inmates with violent histories are not released without mandatory supervision, and improve information sharing and coordination among state agencies and external organizations.

We continue to work with our state’s businesses, labor groups and educational institutions to put into place innovative strategies to reduce re-offense rates through workforce training programs and put people on the path to recovery, rejoining their families, communities and workplaces.

As part of Justice Reinvestment, West Virginia has committed nearly $10 million to support community-based substance abuse services at existing facilities. Over the past five years, the Bureau for Behavioral Health & Health Facilities has provided nearly $29 million – an average of $5.8 million a year – for substance abuse-related services and activities, and has awarded nearly $3 million to develop or expand drug treatment programs in counties across West Virginia where services were formerly limited or non-existent.

I recently announced an additional $250,000 in grant funding to support five new projects across the state that will assist communities participating in the pilot phase of Justice Reinvestment Treatment Supervision program, to expand access to outpatient and intensive outpatient services, community engagement specialists and recovery coaches.

Our efforts have led to significant progress in the fight against substance abuse, and I’m pleased to see recent local and federal efforts to also focus attention on this issue. For the second year in a row, we have seen a decrease in the misuse of prescription drugs, and over the past three years, West Virginia has seen a significant decrease the use of in marijuana and illicit drugs.

I’m proud of the progress we’ve made – together. By continuing to fight back against substance abuse and reinvesting in the lives of West Virginians struggling with addiction, we can create a brighter future for our state and those who call her home.