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CHARLESTON — West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) Secretary Bill Crouch told state lawmakers Monday that federal legislation will let more children of parents with substance use disorders stay in their homes, where they'll be better off, instead of foster care.   

“The federal government has always paid us only if we pull children from their homes,” Crouch said, “so this is a huge change in how we’re able to deal with our child welfare problem.”

Crouch said that federal legislation, the Family First Prevention Services Act, passed in a federal spending bill, will take effect in October 2019. Several national child advocacy groups report the legislation provides money for in-home services. Crouch said it would also help them pay for drug treatment. 

He said that 85 percent of children in foster care in West Virginia were placed there due to a parent’s substance use problem.

“If we can keep children in the home, that child has a much better chance of being successful and proceeding through life in a healthy way,” he said. 

Crouch was addressing lawmakers in the Joint Committee on Finance during legislative interim meetings Monday morning. He was there to speak about efforts and funding targeted toward the opioid epidemic. 

He noted the state relies on millions in grant funding from federal agencies and one-time allocations from Congress. 

“That is hugely beneficial in West Virginia and we need to use that money wisely, but after that we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. 

U.S. senators were planning to vote on one of those one-time packages Monday. 

Crouch also mentioned a pilot project with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS).

He said the state has identified 19,000 people that need drug treatment booked at West Virginia jails. 

In an email, Lawrence Messina, spokesman for DMAPS, said Crouch was referring to a medication-assisted treatment pilot state officials are developing to launch at the Western Regional Jail.

He added that in 2016, an estimated 19,000 inmates were “flagged” for detox protocol of roughly 44,000 booked into regional jails over the course of a year. 

Messina added that the total of individuals may be lower because it could include people who were booked into jails more than once in a year. He said DMAPS has “since started tracking bookings actually placed into the detox protocol.”

Crouch also discussed the state Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP), the upward trend of overdose deaths and treatment options. 

Michael Brumage stepped down in March as head of the ODCP, which is part of DHHR, amid controversy in Charleston over a needle exchange program he had started at the local health department. 

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, recently noted, in a press release, that the acting director no longer fills that role.

Woelfel said his calls to the office were routed to the cabinet secretary, while another DHHR employee, Nancy Sullivan, acting commissioner of the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities and assistant to the cabinet secretary, eventually said she was interim director of the drug control policy office. Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner of the bureau of public health, was featured over the summer in a Politico story for "solving" the drug crisis. 

Crouch alluded to the vacancy Monday morning. 

“The ODCP is not one person,” he said. “One person cannot fulfill the responsibilities that are necessary in the state.”

DHHR officials have said the number of overdoses in West Virginia surpassed 1,000 in 2017, although they said the rate this year had slowed. Monday, Crouch added,  "The trend is still upwards."

Under questioning about access to treatment in West Virginia, Crouch noted that many providers will soon begin offering in-patient treatment to Medicaid patients, thanks to payments from settlements with drug companies. However, he noted that many providers in West Virginia aren’t trained to offer medication-assisted treatment, which helps addiction patients with symptoms of withdrawal. 

“This has to become ingrained in our providers out there."  

Email: ebeck@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @3littleredbones

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