West Virginia First Foundation envisioning broad goals

The West Virginia First Foundation, established to distribute millions of dollars in opioid litigation money, is starting to consider its overarching goals.

“Addiction has its tentacles in just about everything across the spectrum, from education to law enforcement to first responders to the healthcare system to public health to local government to regional jails. You can just go on and on and on about the impact that addiction has had,” said Dr. Matt Christiansen, the state health officer who also serves on the foundation board.

“And that’s really represented in many of the funding requests that we’ve gotten at this point of people just inquiring about the foundation, how they can have access to the foundation dollars, even though we’re not at that point yet.”

The 11-member foundation met via teleconferencing on Thursday afternoon and is still in its early phases. The foundation has $221,416,974 banked as of April 1.

“How do we get to that objective of ensuring that the dollars that we’ve been entrusted with by the cities, counties, by the people of West Virginia ultimately that we’re really making a true impact,” Christiansen said.

The foundation is a non-profit organization approved by state lawmakers to handle millions of dollars in opioid settlement funds from lawsuits against distributors, wholesalers and pharmacies. The foundation will now distribute the funding for work toward abating the opioid epidemic in communities around the state.

The “West Virginia First Memorandum of Understanding” lays out the terms for the state and the many counties and cities that may receive a portion of the settlement to push back against ongoing drug addiction issues.

As the foundation lays out how the money is used, Christiansen advised aiming for measurable objectives “so that we have very clear expectations about what we hope to achieve with the dollars that we push out.”

He envisioned the committee would “be relentless in holding our grantees and the people that we work with and our partners to those outcomes to make sure the dollars that we’re pushing out the door are having the impact that we expect and that if they don’t that there’s a clear contingency around which we can change course to make sure that we push those dollars to a program that does have an impact.”

Matt Harvey, the Jefferson County prosecutor who is chairman of the foundation, agreed.

“I share your concern that, that should be a priority for awarding these dollars,” he said. “We were entrusted with these, and we’ve got to make sure they’re hitting their mark. We have to be able to show and know what’s working and not working.”

Christiansen had started thinking about what areas might benefit from more funding. He suggested prevention programs don’t get enough money or attention “to keep kids off of drugs, keep them away from drugs, make it not the norm but the exception to the rule that people start using drugs.”

He also asked, “How do we support law enforcement? How do we support EMS from a mental health standpoint, a resiliency standpoint, a staffing standpoint?”

And he asked, “How do we make sure we’re getting those people already identified as having severe addiction and maybe have overdosed three times — how do we make sure we get them into effective treatment that actually works so that their loved one isn’t calling EMS the very next day and causing more burnout because of another overdose.”

The West Virginia First Foundation named its director, Jonathan Board, at its last meeting. Board
is set to officially begin May 6.

The foundation board, which has been meeting the first Thursday of each month, would have been scheduled to meet next on May 2. So to give Board time to get started, the board agreed today to have
its next meeting at 2 p.m. May 16.