BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Raleigh County Commission is considering a ground-breaking plan to permit those with some opioid-related convictions to receive a monthly injection which takes away powerful opioid cravings, as part of their sentence. If Raleigh County Commission approves the plan, the county will cover a large part of the cost.
At a scheduled public meeting on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, local medical professionals will present information about available injections that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and available as treatment options for the proposed program.
Dr. Hassan Jafary, who will speak at the meeting, said on Monday, February 13, 2023, that the plan can lower jail costs and the overdose death rate, which is higher than the state suicide rate.
“If you compare it as a disease, this should be considered as a mental illness, because it kills more people than just suicide or major depressive disorder,” Dr. Jafary said.
A study conducted earlier this month by West Virginia University School of Public Health shows West Virginia leads the nation in the financial cost caused by self-injury deaths, with unintentional drug overdoses causing many of those deaths. Dr. Jafary said patients benefit if the court recognizes addiction as a mental illness.
Some have raised questions about whether it violates Constitutional rights to order medical treatment as a penalty for a crime or to force someone to choose between increased jail time and an injection.
Currently, mental health commissioners can order someone into addiction treatment only if family proves in court they are likely to hurt themselves or someone else.
Dr. Jafary said he recognizes the importance of human rights. He cautioned against categorizing a court-ordered treatment as a punishment, even in cases that involve criminal convictions.
He said with the high death toll in the state, he is in favor of offering West Virginia families and judges more power to place addiction patients into court-ordered treatment programs.
“Most of the people are not in their right mind,” he explained. “They don’t want to get treatment, and their life is saved if the judge makes it mandatory for them to go to rehab or take the medication. And we’ve seen it in the hospital. Most of the time, it works.”
He said it is important that the injections are administered in a doctor’s office or medical facility, where professionals are able to screen for other drugs and learn about the patient’s medical history, including mental health.
Raleigh County Commission will not make a decision at the February 14 meeting. The meeting is for the public and commissioners to get information from medical professionals.
The meeting is at Historic Black Knight Municipal Park at 11 a.m.