Story by Jarret Lewis, MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia First Foundation is in discussion about creating “expert panels” filled with local representatives to assist them in how opioid settlement money is dispersed to the different regions across the state.

The foundation’s board met Friday. They are in charge of distributing up to $1 billion in opioid settlement money.

State Health Officer and Region 5 Director of the foundation Dr. Matthew Christiansen laid out the idea of having expert panels to the rest of the foundation’s members and how exactly the panels would operate.

Dr. Christiansen said he and other regional directors believe adding an expert panel would be a “critical piece” for the foundation to find out what exactly is needed in area of the state.

“Having an expert panel that can advise us on the best use of these dollars is important to the foundation,” Dr. Christiansen said. “We can understand what is needed at the local level and have subject-matter experts advise us on this incredibly complicated issue of addiction.”

According to Christiansen, who represents the southwestern part of the state as Region 5 Director, there would be six regional panels made up of six individuals. The regional director would be responsible for who gets appointed to their respective regional panel.

“We feel those people appointed would understand the situation best in the local community,” Christiansen said.

Appointed individuals would have to be knowledgeable in one of six different areas of expertise that were discussed by regional directors and then outlined by Dr. Christiansen during Friday’s meeting. The goal is to have one person represent each of the broad areas of expertise which are prevention, treatment, recovery and lived experience, addiction systems, law enforcement and medical first responders.

All six members of each select group would then appoint one person to represent their area of expertise to a state expert panel. The state expert panel would be the “point-of-contact” between the First Foundation Board and the six regional expert panels.

“They would advise us directly,” Christiansen said. “To some extent, they would be filtering the flow of information up to us on the board so that we get the best-of-the-best ideas as representatives across the regions.”

Dr. Christiansen said they would use the regional panels to get feedback on what exactly is needed from a funding and service standpoint in that respective community. Regional panels would also vet the funding decisions. Each region is expected to require a different amount of funding and resources.

“We need to know that people have the capacity, experience and history to implement programs that will get us results,” Christiansen said.

“This is not just funding existing programs, but really thinking big and outside the box to create new solutions that haven’t been delivered to West Virginians.”

The foundation board is still without an executive director. Some board members expressed during their meeting on Friday that they hope to see one selected soon.

More information about the foundation can be found at wvfirst.org.