Health Law Matters

West Virginia Adopts New Rules to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

Prescription pills

During 2018, the West Virginia Legislature took several important steps to supplement and strengthen the State’s response to the opioid epidemic. [1]

First, the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 272 to create the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy, and to adopt a pilot program to assess a proposed Community Overdose Response Demonstration Pilot Project.

Second, the West Virginia legislature also adopted Senate Bill 273, which imposes important limits on how physicians in the state can prescribe opioids for pain in various settings, including emergency rooms, physician offices and by dentists and optometrists. 

Third, on November 12, 2018, the West Virginia Legislature made important changes to legislative rules governing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs. MAT programs use medications like methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine to treat opioid addictions in conjunction with therapies designed to manage and overcome opioid addiction. 

One notable change in the new rules allows private physician offices that treat 30 or less patients with opioid addictions to provide  MAT programs without registering as a pain clinic.  Other changes provided by the rules include:

  • Eliminating the initial assessment requirement;
  • Eliminating the 24-hour prescription and dose information hotline;
  • Making it easier to allow cash only payments;
  • Loosening criteria for dosage protocols;
  • Eliminating certain quality assurance requirements; and
  • Allowing more flexible staffing requirements

The rule changes can be found here.

Many states adopted overly strict rules governing the licensure and operations of pain clinics and MAT programs to clamp down on the misuse of these programs. However, considerable research suggests that MAT programs are increasingly seen as the most effective means to provide a long-term treatment solution to opioid addiction.[2]Several of these rule changes effectively loosen earlier restrictions that were designed to clamp down on abusive programs, but that also hampered the development of effective MAT programs and unduly restricted the development of widespread and effective treatments for patients with opioid addictions. 

If you require further information regarding the above, please contact Charles M. Johnson (at cmjohnson@fbtlaw.com or 304.348.2420) or any other member of Frost Brown Todd’s Health Care Industry Team.


[1] These efforts began in earnest in 2017.  On January 30, 2017, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health announced a detailed Opioid Response Plan for West Virginia. 

This opioid response plan was adopted on the heels of the United States declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency on October 26, 2017 and the adoption of  a detailed report on November 1, 2017 by the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which  outlines recommendations to supplement funding, ramp up prevention efforts, implement more effective treatment programs and further research efforts to combat opioid abuse. 

[2] Numerous comments were received regarding the successful use of the MAT programs, and the need for the proposed changes, including an informative letter by Dr. Berry of the West Virginia University Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry outlining the history of MATs, while underlining the importance of effective MAT programs in West Virginia.

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Attorney Spotlight

Brian F. Higgins is an associate in FBT's regulated business group with a focus on health care, and he has a history as corporate counsel to Medpace, Inc., a pharmaceutical clinical research organization.

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