Cumberland Times-News

Local News

April 16, 2013

U.S. health law mixed for W.Va. drug abuse efforts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Few states are as hard-pressed as West Virginia when it comes to finding space in treatment centers for people addicted to drugs or alcohol. While offering coverage to more of these people, the federal health care overhaul may also stretch those meager resources even further, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data.

More than 11,200 uninsured West Virginians with substance abuse problems will be able to shop for private policies through the federal law starting in January, the analysis estimates. While Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has yet to decide whether to expand Medicaid as called for by the law, taking that step would cover an additional 33,677 people struggling with addiction, the data suggests.

But with only 558 treatment center beds, West Virginia already has a higher occupancy rate than every other state except Idaho and New Hampshire. The federal figures estimate that 119,000 West Virginians need substance abuse treatment, or 1 out of every 13 people statewide, but that just 13,000 are currently getting such care.

At 26 beds, The Healing Place of Huntington has a waiting list with about 68 names on it, Executive Director Walter “Skip” Ewing said Tuesday. While another $100,000 a year in annual funding would nearly double its capacity, Ewing questions where the money would come from.

“My board won’t let me proceed until I get more operational funds,” said Ewing, whose goal is a 100-bed facility. “It takes nine months to go through my program. There’s no quick answer when it comes to addiction... It’s very structured, very regimented. If you know anything about addiction, you know that’s what they need.”

The dearth of resources is particularly hard on women with substance abuse problems, Ewing said; his center is male-only. The Healing Place relies on state and federal grants as well as foundations and fundraising efforts. Ewing believes the government, state and federal, must do more than expand insurance access.

“They’ve got to come to the party, so to speak, and be part of the solution,” Ewing said. “Right now, they’re standing in the background wondering what to do.”

Crime fueled by substance abuse has become a major issue at the Legislature. A measure enacted last year targeted meth labs and doctors who negligently hand out pain pill prescriptions. Just last week, lawmakers pledged $25 million over five years for such community-based services as addiction treatment. But that funding is part of Tomblin’s proposal tackling the state’s inmate crowding crisis, and so those resources will only go to people accused or convicted of crimes.

“This year, we have not invested any new money in resources for people who are not adjudicated,” said House Health and Human Re-sources Chairman Don Perdue.

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