Lawmakers say most helpful measures passed without fanfare

WHEELING — West Virginia Senate leaders said many bills that will benefit state residents passed during the recent legislative session, including a number of which target opioid abuse.

Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, and Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said many pieces of legislation passed without much fanfare or debate because pay raises for state employees took center stage.

“There were pieces of legislation that did get through that will move the ‘help-o-meter’ needle for West Virginians,” Weld said. “Good things we got accomplished got overshadowed during the session.”

Weld, who also serves as an assistant prosecutor in Brooke County, often focuses on drug-related legislation.

He introduced and passed Senate Bill 401, which requires private health care insurers to cover up to 180 days of inpatient substance abuse without authorization. Weld expects Gov. Jim Justice to sign the legislation.

“I think this is a real game-changer in West Virginia for how we can get people into help,” Weld said. “If the governor signs this into law, then West Virginia is only the second state in the nation to have something like this, with New Jersey being the first.

“You have situations where someone may be trying to get into a facility, or they’ve been ordered there by a court, and they’ve lost their spot because they had to wait on pre-authorization from their insurance company. This bypasses this step and gets that person right into the facility.”

Weld said while there are drug treatment centers used by the rich and famous that “cost thousands of dollars” each month, West Virginia’s proposed law assures those of lesser means have access to treatment.

“It’s a huge step forward for the state,” Weld said.

Ferns spoke of SB 273. It seeks to lessen the number of opioid prescriptions and the overall number of opioids dispensed into West Virginia communities through increased policing and investigation of abnormal practices.

It also limits the number of days for which a doctor may prescribe an opioid. The Centers for Disease Control research indicates there is a greater chance of addiction occurring if a patient takes an opioid beyond five consecutive days.

The legislation resulted from recommendations from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources based on data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control.

“In order to avoid people getting addicted to opioids in the first place, medical practitioners should exhaust all non-opioid pain management techniques prior to ever giving an opioid.”

Ferns, a physical therapist, said he and many other practitioners of pain treatment — such as massage therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists — seek to relieve pain in ways that result in “zero” chance of addiction.

“Prior to the days of multi-million-dollar pharmaceutical ads, that was how pain was treated,” Ferns said. “You just didn’t get a pill every time you went to the doctor’s office. There were self-treatments that didn’t require pills, and what the CDC is saying is, we need to get back to that.”

He said opioids are most often prescribed for back pain, but “they don’t help anyway.”

“People could take opioids until they’re blue in the face and it would never relieve pain from a nerve root impingement,” Ferns said. “Chiropractors and physical therapists and osteopaths have found ways to treat nerve root impingement without ever prescribing an opioid.”

Among other legislation passing this session highlighted by Ferns and Weld was House Bill 4268, the co-tenency bill. The measure has been signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice, and permits the leasing of Marcellus and Utica shale fracking rights when multiple owners own the same property — and the majority of owners agree to the lease.

Ferns and Weld hope the new law should lead to more natural gas development in the state, and result in a positive economic impact.

House Bill 4001 requires the Department of Health and Human Resources to implement work requirements for applicants seeking public assistance. Under the bill, recipients would have to seek employment to receive benefits, or volunteer at least 20 hours a week to an approved charitable organization.

And those winning a lottery prize can ask to not have their identity released to the public — if they are willing to pay an additional tax to the West Virginia Lottery to remain anonymous.


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