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Bob Hansen, left, director of the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy, speaks about the new Jobs and Hope WV program with Gov. Jim Justice on Oct. 15, 2019, at the Putnam County Career and Technical Center.

CHARLESTON — Leadership changes and the formation of a new council delayed the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy in finalizing the mandated substance abuse response plan, but the plan is now complete, including recommendations made by the legislative Performance Evaluation and Research Division.

The performance review of the Office of Drug Control Policy, or ODCP, was presented to the Joint Committee on Government Operations on Monday. The evaluation found the 2020 response plan did not meet the mandated requirement to address tobacco use.

The bill creating the ODCP, passed in 2017, required the office to develop a strategic plan by July 1, 2018, to reduce the prevalence of drug, alcohol abuse and smoking by at least 10%. The office did not make that deadline, but did a strategic plan in January 2019 that the review board found did not address tobacco or alcohol use but still met the statutory requirement.

The review credits the office’s lack of steady leadership for the missed deadline. Since its creation in 2017, there have been two executive directors and two interim directors before the hiring of Bob Hansen in December 2018. Gov. Jim Justice also created the Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment in December 2018, tasking the 15-member council with collaborating with the ODCP to create a response plan.

ODCP began revising the plan released in January with the council, eventually presenting the finalized 2020 plan. The draft of that plan presented to legislators in November still did not include a plan to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use, the performance review found. The plan used the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s definition of substance use disorder for which tobacco use does not meet the criteria.

Both the Performance Division and Hansen stated Monday that the ODCP agreed to the review’s assessment, and the 2020 plan has been updated to address tobacco use. Hansen said the report should be finalized within days.

Though one major goal of health advocates in West Virginia has already been accomplished thanks to the new federal policy that raised the age requirement to purchase tobacco products to 21, tobacco prevention and cessation will still be a topic this upcoming legislative session.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network is advocating for a $5.65 million increase to tobacco prevention and cessation efforts. The Legislature cut all $3 million in funding for tobacco efforts from the Department of Health and Human Resources’ budget during the 2017 budget cuts. This year, $500,000 was allocated back for the first time.

Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said Friday he would like to see more funding restored, especially to bring back Raze, the state public school tobacco prevention program, as teen use of electronic cigarettes, or vapes, continues to rise.

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