CHARLESTON, WV (STL.News) Gov. Jim Justice announced today a $6 million federal grant that will help West Virginia strengthen cutting-edge strategies that target addiction through prevention, intervention, and diversion.
The funding comes from the Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Site-based Program (COSSAP) through the Justice and Community Services section of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security.
“I’ve said many times that we need to do everything in our power and be willing to use every tool in our toolbelt to combat the epidemic we continue to face against opioids,” Gov. Justice said. “This grant is a truly fantastic help in that fight. It’s going to provide all kinds of new pathways and access to treatment for West Virginians who may be struggling. I could not be more excited for this grant.”
The grant will support two successful strategies: pre-arrest diversion and school-based prevention.
- Pre-arrest diversion: Through the Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), the state has taken steps to implement three primary models of pre-arrest diversion. This grant will allow these three initiatives, which are already seeing results, to collaborate closely, and enhance their successes:
- Quick Response Teams (QRTs), which work directly with individuals who have experienced an overdose to provide recovery support, social service referrals, and links to treatment options. QRTs are multi-disciplinary teams comprised of a first responder, a Peer Recovery Support Specialist, a law enforcement officer, and a member of the faith-based community. Supported by the DHHR, QRTs are currently operating in 22 counties.
- Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which pursues community-based supportive services as an alternative to the criminal justice system in appropriate cases involving such low-level offenses as drug possession. Part of a growing national initiative, LEAD is supported by ODCP.
- The West Virginia Angel Initiative, which allows the West Virginia State Police to refer people to treatment when they present to a State Police post seeking assistance for their substance use disorder (SUD), without fear of prosecution for possession of illegal substances or paraphernalia.
This integrated approach will be known as the West Virginia QLA Early Intervention Program.
“West Virginia has implemented a variety of initiatives to address the SUD epidemic and the fear associated with asking for help, including adopting and promoting several programs of Pre-Arrest Diversion,” said ODCP Assistant Director Rachel Thaxton. “This opportunity will allow for the alignment of critical services to serve as a framework of best practices to expand across the state.”
School-based prevention: The grant will expand the highly valued Prevention Resource Officer (PRO) program to nearly all counties. PROs are certified law enforcement officers who receive special training to serve in their local elementary, middle, and high schools. PROs build trust with students to mentor them, prevent and respond to dangerous school situations, and serve as liaisons between students and staff.
“When PROs are integrated into a school system, the benefits exceed reducing violence in schools,” said Justice Programs Manager Tanisha Travis, the PRO coordinator. “PROs work to make the lives of students not only safer but better. PROs enforce safety in our schools, but their abilities to support a student’s well-being and growth extends far beyond the badge they wear.”
More than 100 trained PROs currently serve in 35 counties. The grant will add them to 18 more: Boone, Gilmer, Grant, Marion, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Pendleton, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Summers, Tucker, Tyler, Wayne, Webster, and Wirt counties. PRO officers funded through this grant will focus on substance abuse education and prevention services.
“Having additional officers in our schools means more positive role models for our students,” Travis said. “It is time that every school in West Virginia benefits from having a certified and specifically trained law-enforcement officer on-site.”
Justice and Community Services is part of DHS’ Division of Administrative Services. The COSSAP grant was awarded by U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs through its Bureau of Justice Assistance. The grants support larger-scale state efforts to implement, enhance, or evaluate effective responses to the opioid and stimulant crises.
“Funds received through the COSSAP program are critical to supporting and expanding existing prevention and treatment initiatives,” said Marty Hatfield, the senior criminal justice specialist at JCS who successfully applied for the grant. “JCS is both proud and excited to have the opportunity to partner with agencies like ODCP, Marshall University, Cordata Healthcare Innovations, and local law enforcement for this project.”