State officials announce new drug program

ELEANOR — State officials announced Tuesday the re-branding of a program to help people recovering from drug addiction to receive job training and enter the workforce.

Gov. Jim Justice, joined by representatives with the Department of Health and Human Resources, WorkForce West Virginia, the Department of Education and the West Virginia National Guard, unveiled the new Jobs and Hope West Virginia Program Tuesday afternoon at the Putnam Career and Technical Center in Eleanor.

“We had to reach out and truly give the people that were affected by these terrible drugs treatment and us pay for it,” Justice said. “And the next thing we need to do is train them, train them to be able to go do something.”

The Jobs and Hope West Virginia Program will help connect those leaving drug treatment centers and those in recovery with 12 transition agents who will help connect them with other state and private agencies to find job training programs and help with finding jobs.

“Transition agents provide participants the opportunity to overcome obstacles and barriers to employment, so they feel empowered to move forward,” Lorrie Smith, lead coordinator for the Office of Diversion and Transition Programs at the Department of Education, said. “The agents link participants to a network that leads to personal and professional success. Their role is to help navigate the support processes and give guidance to people who transition back into society and the workplace.”

Justice said the Jobs and Hope Program is a re-branding of JIM’S Dream, a $20 million program he proposed in his 2019 State of the State address. The program had three components: substance abuse treatment, job training, and expungement of non-violent criminal records to help substance abuse victims return to the workforce.

“If you’re the governor, if you’re an elected official, you can’t use your name on stuff and everything,” Justice said. “This started out as JIM’S dream and I guess it evolved to Jobs and Hope because we couldn’t put my name out there, but I want to tell you this: it is my dream.”

Smith, citing data from DHHR, said that West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the country per capita, with 49.6 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 14.9 deaths nationally. The workforce participation rate sits at 54.5 percent and the state poverty rate is the fourth highest in the U.S.

Smith hopes the Jobs and Hope Program can turn those numbers around.

“As we all know, West Virginia is ground zero for a convergence of many of today’s social, emotional and socioeconomic challenges,” Smith said. “All of these factors weigh heavily on the state’s social support infrastructure. At the heart of Jobs and Hope is a vision of providing West Virginians in recovery the opportunity to overcome obstacles that prevent them from establishing career success and strong family and community ties.”

Part of the funding for Jobs and Hope is going to the state’s career and technical centers for adult learning programs, as well as the National Guard for additional training programs. Other assistance includes help with driver’s license reinstatement, transportation and child care.

Since August, the Jobs and Hope program already has 380 referrals and 250 participants.

“I think that just tells you that we’re headed in the right direction,” said Bob Hansen executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy within DHHR. “This program, as it continues to develop, will play a significant role in helping people along the path of recovery. It will be an important part of giving people hope that their future can still be bright, that having a substance use disorder does not mean the end of the road.”

Hansen said DHHR will soon add a peer recovery support specialist to help the transition specialists with the Jobs and Hope Program. The Office of Drug Control Policy and the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment this week held public forums to receive comment on the West Virginia Substance Use Response Plan.

The next forum is Monday in Charleston.

Speaking to the attendees at the announcement Tuesday, Justice acknowledged the Jobs and Hope Program is a small piece in turning the opioid and drug crisis around in West Virginia, but the new program was the right thing to do.

“It took me, it took all of you to make it become a reality, so I couldn’t be more proud and we got a long, long ways to go,” Justice said. “We’ve got drugs affecting every family in this state one way or another, and we got to do something about it. Is this going to solve it? No, it’s not. Is this a strike in the right direction? Absolutely, without a doubt, but there’s so much more to do.”


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