Caroline MacGregor Published

Dr. Rahul Gupta In Charleston For Roundtable On Drug Epidemic

Rahul Gupta

Former state health officer Dr. Rahul Gupta joined law enforcement officers in Charleston Wednesday for a discussion about West Virginia’s overdose epidemic.

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) roundtable was one of several stops on Gupta’s visit to the region to share President Biden’s response to the state’s opioid epidemic. Police chiefs from Charleston, Huntington, Boone County and Kanawha County talked with Gupta about the crisis facing the state.

Gupta said the country as a whole is facing the most dynamic drug supply environment in its history. He said more than a million American lives have been lost to drug use over the past couple of decades. The statistics are staggering.

“We know that right now across the country we are losing an American every five minutes around the clock,” Gupta said. “We’ve had some of the highest numbers in terms of passing the hundred thousand death mark in any 12 month given period like we’ve never had before.”

With more lethal drugs on the market, Gupta said a noticeable shift from organic or plant based drugs to synthetic drugs has opened a Pandora’s box.

“Not only do we see fentanyl, meth and cocaine, drug suppliers are able to create any number of combinations, if you have creative chemists sitting in a lab,” he said.

Gupta said tackling untreated addiction and drug trafficking continue to be priorities of the Biden administration. He talked of the need to control the ingredients for fentanyl from entering the country and state.

“We want to make sure those containers that are coming to shores here, Mexico or other places, if illicit or licit chemicals, we find them, prevent them from shipping and interdict them so they don’t turn into fentanyl and kill Americans.”

In response to questions from law enforcement officials about funding for specific campaigns and programs to prevent first time drug use in kids, Gupta cited the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Program where 700 youth coalitions have been formed across the country, including West Virginia.

The nationwide effort, led by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) where Gupta serves as the director, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provides funding and support to community coalitions to prevent and reduce youth substance use.

Every law enforcement official present at the roundtable talked to Gupta about a critical shortage of manpower in their departments to fight drug abuse.

Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford said recruitment of officers has become an uphill battle.

“As little as eight or nine years ago we’d get maybe 200 people, or more,” said Rutherford. “We gave a test last Saturday; we had 11 people show up. Eleven people. That’s crazy.”

Gupta acknowledged the need for more officers to fight the drug epidemic as well as an additional state drug testing center to address a backlog in cases. The process of testing for a particular drug like fentanyl can be complex when other drugs or chemical compounds are present. The backlog creates a huge difference in the time it takes to prosecute a case.

Law enforcement officials also discussed the plight of tracking people released from the court system into rehab as well as the need for better communication tools to trace dealers through shared information at the state and national level.

The drug epidemic’s impact on families, communities as well as the officers on the front lines is something Gupta remains committed to solving.

Later Wednesday afternoon Dr. Gupta visited West Virginia Health Right where he treated patients in recovery when he was in West Virginia.