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Substance use disorder (SUD) and opioid use disorder (OUD) are two things West Virginia is very familiar with. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released data regarding overdoses in 2020. There have been 1,275 confirmed overdoses reported in this year, which is an increase from the 878 reported in 2019. Spending this settlement fund to provide more resources and new treatment facilities for those who battle this disorder is a much-needed addition to our area and state. However, we do not need to stop there.

Many individuals charged with felonies in the state of West Virginia are drug-related. The number of drug offenders admitted each year into West Virginia state prisons has increased by more than 300% since 2000 (Office of Research and Strategic Planning, 2017). In our state you lose the right to vote if convicted of a felony and cannot gain that right back until your probation or parole has been complete (West Virginia ex-offender voting rights).

Many may be wondering where the problem lies involving this law. The problem is after one has served their time many aren’t aware of the rights they gain back i.e., voting, simply because no one informs them.

Harm reduction is something we evidently struggle with in West Virginia. There are multiple ways we can advocate for harm reduction, one being supporting the Freedom to Vote Act. Due to the drug epidemic that has consumed our state, there are many West Virginians who have lost their right to vote due to drug charges. This act supports our freedom to vote and will allow those individuals to be properly educated on their rights once their sentence is over.

The Freedom to Vote Act is about ensuring our voices are heard no matter the circumstances, whether it be advocating for change involving our state’s opioid crisis or ending the issues we see each year come election time. We must pass the Freedom to Vote Act so that we can begin implementing the changes our area and state need.

Kaylee Hartley

Point Pleasant, W.Va.

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