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Justice Urges More Drug Treatment; Vague on How to Pay for It

Jim Justice, the Democratic Party candidate for West Virginia governor, says the state has no choice but to find the money to pay for more drug treatment. (Dan Heyman)
Jim Justice, the Democratic Party candidate for West Virginia governor, says the state has no choice but to find the money to pay for more drug treatment. (Dan Heyman)
August 31, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Billionaire and gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice is forcefully calling for more drug treatment. But he's vague on how West Virginia could pay for more treatment centers.

West Virginia is battling a big budget deficit while, as Justice puts it, opioid addiction has the state "cannibalizing" itself.

Saying he's a political outsider, the coal and resort baron argues he's in no position to give budget specifics.

"Can I tell you specifically today where the pot of gold is that we can get to build these facilities?” Justice asked. “I can't. I can't do that. But we've got to find it."

The Democratic Party nominee discussed the state's drug problems with social workers Tuesday, as he accepted the endorsement of their professional organization.

Judging by rhetoric, both Justice and his Republican opponent – Senate President Bill Cole – favor a mixed, multi-faceted approach. Cole is emphasizing harsh criminal punishments.

Under Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, West Virginia has seen some success reforming courts and jails. The state is moving non-violent adult and juvenile offenders out of incarceration and into community-based programs, and saving money doing it.

Justice wants to go further, and he was not entirely silent on how to fund the added treatment it would require.

He said once they're running, residential facilities could pay for their services through public and private insurance payments, from, say, Medicaid and private policies.

But he stressed more treatment is an absolute necessity.

"Those treatment facilities can be self-sustaining,” he insisted. “But regardless, we've got to find the money. I mean, it's all there is to it. If there is no money, we have to find the money."

A Justice campaign press release gives the general shape of a complex set of proposals, including expanding drug courts, adding treatment programs to the regional jails, reducing school truancy, improving job prospects and mental health care.

Licensed social worker Jim Harris was one of those meeting with Justice. Harris said the state should look at what it's spending on sending folks out of state for treatment.

"We need to take an honest look and say, 'Has that just been the quick fix?' and say, 'Hey, we could use that money that we're sending out of state to build infrastructure in-state,’" he stated. “We're spending a lot of money out of state on services that we could be providing within our state."


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV