Kanawha County Commission pushes for State Health Officer to oversee opioid settlement funds in their region

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha County Commission wants State Health Officer Dr. Matthew Christiansen to help oversee the statewide distribution of opioid settlement funds.

Dr. Matthew Christiansen

The commission will back Christiansen at a meeting scheduled for next Wednesday of members of Region 5 of the West Virginia First Foundation, the public-private effort to distribute the funds to cities, counties and towns across the state.

Kanawha County Commissioner Lance Wheeler nominated Christiansen at Thursday night’s commission meeting.

“He’s formally the director of DHHR’s office of Drug Control Policy, he’s board certified in addiction medicine and family medicine, and he’s practiced in addiction and dependence,” Wheeler said.

Carper agreed with Wheeler that the director position needs to go to someone who has a professional background that can more efficiently take on the role.

“Some people might think that it needs to be someone who’s this and that, you got to have people who are qualified and the most important thing is they show up to the meetings and they remember who appointed them,” he said.

Salango added that he hopes some law enforcement officers can also help oversee the board.

Region 6, made up of several counties in southern West Virginia, has already chosen a medical doctor for its representative on the foundation board. Dr. Michael Kelly is a physician in McDowell County.

The state received about $1 billion in opioid settlement funds that will be dispersed across all of West Virginia’s cities and counties, and Carper said they can expect more funds to be distributed from the settlement beyond that.

“Anywhere between $800 to $900 million give or take, a lot of it will be paid out overtime, and it has nothing to do with the money we’re going to get separately out of what they call the AG settlement fund, that’s a separate pot of money,” said Carper.

In addition to Kanawha County, nine other counties including Cabell, Clay, Boone, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, Mason, Mingo and Wayne Counties make up Region 5 of the six West Virginia First Foundation districts.

Following Region six’s selection of its director– which includes Raleigh, Fayette, Monroe, Summers, Nicholas, Webster, Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Mercer, Wyoming, and McDowell counties– four of the other regions will select their directors before July 17.

In addition, Gov. Jim Justice will appoint five other directors that will also serve on the board that will be made up of a total of 11 directors.

Wheeler will represent the county commission at next week’s Region 5 meeting.