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Howard's Commentary - Dealing with WV Drug Crisis

Federal prosecutor for WV's Northern District has been aggressively dealing with the growing drug crisis in WV. Now Wheeling attorney Bill Ihlenfeld will be working with Governor-elect Jim Justice' transition team to develop some strategies that could be implemented statewide.

Recent statistics show an 11% increase nationwide in drug overdose deaths and WV has a similar increase, leaving the Mountain State again as the state with the highest number of drug deaths. The increasing use of fentanyl has changed the nature of the drug problem as well. Justice has publicly talked about his concerns over the impact the drug problem has on the state and Ihlenfeld believes that's why he's created this drug committee.

A drug czar, increased use of private sector partnerships and collaboration with higher ed as well as a need to be "nimble and able to change on the fly" are among some suggestions he made to me on The Watchdog Morning Show this week. Ihlenfeld co-chairs this drug team with the mayor and fire chief in Huntington who he thinks have developed some "innovative and creative" programs that could be used as templates.

In Huntington, there is an office of Drug Control and a Director who focuses his efforts solely on this issue. It's an idea Ihlenfeld thinks could be done at a state level. While he is quick to point out that he hasn't discussed these ideas with his other co-chairs or with the Governor Elect's team, he thinks that an individual(s) who devotes full-time to the issue, who would have strong authority and report directly to the Governor would streamline state efforts. Ihlenfeld says he recognizes the budget problems currently facing the state but thinks it's likely current funding could be rearranged a bit to find the resources for this department.

Ihlenfeld also thinks that dealing with the drug problem would help with the issue of jobs, if more addicts receive treatment and would be become productive employees. He also would like to see greater consideration of partnerships with the private sector in developing treatment and rehab programs. In addition, Ihlenfeld talks about more direct partnerships with our higher education institutions and increased use of multi-jurisdiction task force such as he works with in the federal prosector's office.

Ihlenfeld frequently reminded that the transition drug team hasn't even met yet, so these are just ideas he has, which may or may not be interesting to the other team members, so nothing should be considered as actual proposals until the team has talked bout them.

By the way, Ihlenfeld likely will be leaving his post once a new Attorney General is confirmed. He talked about that with me as well.