KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ/WYMT)- Major federal funding is coming to West Virginia to help combat the opioid epidemic. A $38 million Department of Justice grant will be used to reduce crime and improve public safety.
"We're making record and historic efforts on the ground," United States Attorney Mike Stuart said. "But ultimately this comes to be about victims. We want fewer victims, and we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to support folks who are fighting so hard for us."
This grant aims to invest on the local level in opioid treatment programs and law enforcement efforts to help people before they get in major trouble.
"On the one hand we want to prosecute those folks, drug dealers from Detroit and Akron who violate the conscious of West Virginia," Stuart said. "But at the same time we want to love the victims, we want to love our children, we want to make sure they grow up and become whatever they dream that they can become."
One program that will get substantial funding through this grant is the West Virginia Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) that has operated in parts of the state since 2014.
The purpose of LEAD is to steer low-level drug offenders away from prosecution and into treatment.
"It's just anyone who has a substance abuse problem and commits a crime, a non violent crime," Prestera CEO Karen Yost said. "These are the people who break into your garage, steal your lawn mower so they can get money to buy drugs."
Prestera has participated in the program since the beginning and has helped more than 250 people stay away from the criminal justice system. Sixty-six percent of program participants have not been re-arrested.
"It's proven to be successful," Yost said. "There are programs across the country, and we are trying to expand it because as we are dealing with recovery and this epidemic."
"This is a health crisis, of a huge magnitude," Yost continued. "The strategies and the solutions are multifaceted, and there are no solutions that are going to fix this whole problem."
Prestera has been using grant money to help grow LEAD across West Virginia.