MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — The Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr. Rahul Gupta, is visiting West Virginia this week to discuss local and national efforts in addressing the overdose epidemic.
Leaders in north central West Virginia, WVU officials and Dr. Gupta gathered in the WVU Health Sciences Center at 9 a.m. on Thursday for a roundtable discussion. During the discussion, leaders took turns talking about what they know or are doing in their communities and schools to battle the overdose epidemic. While many leaders had the opportunity to share, the College of Applied Human Sciences’ Dean, Autumn Cyprès, spoke on the mental health resource app that they have created for students who may struggle with anxiety and depression. From the hour-and-a-half-long conversation, most learned that mental health is a huge part of the overdose epidemic.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, William Ihlenfeld II, used his time to bring up what drugs are the greatest threats, where they come from and how it has been a struggle for law enforcement. He mentioned that there are two great threats right now, and they are fentanyl and methamphetamine. Ihlenfeld also mentioned that Xylazine, also known as an equine sedative, is being cut with fentanyl now for a “better and longer high.” He warned everyone of the signs and even said that Naloxone does not work to reverse the effects of an overdose.
It was said that most synthetic drugs come from two cartels in Mexico. Dr. Gupta elaborated by saying that over 90% of synthetic drugs come from the “ports of entry” at the southern border, in which they usually come in through commercial and personal private traffic. However, there is a technology, that he and President Joe Biden are hoping to get implemented soon.
Dr. Gupta told 12 News during a press conference following the discussion, “We have now, the ability to have non-intrusive detection technology scanners that we want to make sure that they’re scanning all of that traffic when it’s appropriate to do so.” He said that the President has called out in his State of the Union Address to have a fentanyl surge that includes the implementation of non-intrusive detection technology. As of right now, they are in 123 ports of entry to implement the technology.
While the new detection technology can help prevent synthetic drugs from coming into the country, what can we do now to help those struggling with substance use disorder? The Director mentioned that Naloxone oftentimes has the stigma of being an “enabler,” however it is meant to save lives first so that those struggling can get help out of their addiction afterward.
Right now, you can find Naloxone through health care providers, health departments and syringe exchange programs. Soon, you can find them at a local pharmacy. Dr. Gupta said, “one of the things I’m doing is prioritizing the availability, affordability, and access to Naloxone. You will see that on the shelves of your pharmacies by this summer, right next to Motrin and Tylenol.” He added that he and President Biden will be bringing all the Naloxone manufacturers to the White House to convene and have a meeting to ensure that West Virginia can have the accessibility of the first thing. It was said that the President wants to make sure he is helping the states that are getting hit the hardest by the epidemic.
Dr. Clay Marsh, Vice President & Executive Dean for Health Sciences mentioned that prevention is a key part in addressing the epidemic. According to Dr. Marsh, when WVU President Gordon Gee came back to the University, they had already introduced harm reduction through the school’s public health by looking at training first responders with the use of fentanyl. He mentioned that they also have also expanded their treatment program. At first, it was a six-month wait to get treatment in West Virginia, but now, it is same-day treatment. They use many programs and resources to immediately be effective for students.
After the roundtable discussion and press conference, Dr. Gupta got to take a tour of the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, where students and staff have been conducting research on the epidemic.
Gupta will be visiting the Charleston area on Friday, and the Lewisburg area on Saturday, where he will conduct more roundtable discussions. By having these conversations and making the visits, it lets the Director and President know first-hand what our communities are still in need of while informing on what is going on behind the scenes, and what is to still come.