October 27, 2011

Manchin: Drug Abuse Detrimental to State's Workforce | WTRF

Law enforcement agents and community leaders sat down with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Oct. 26 to discuss one of the state's worst and growing problems—drug abuse.

Manchin was in Beckley as part of his Commonsense Ideas for a Stronger America tour, where he held a roundtable to discuss the continued need to fight prescription drug abuse so employers can fill their open positions. Manchin has worked with other members of Congress, including fellow Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, to pass legislation to ban or eliminate synthetic drugs and their ingredients. Manchin said the talks were eye-opening.

"Today's roundtable discussion on drugs and our economy was truly beneficial because we brought together folks on all sides of the issue—treatment, education, law enforcement, prevention, business and labor," Manchin said after the meeting. "We all agree that this is one of the biggest problems plaguing our communities and our nation."

Manchin said he will take the ideas presented at the discussion back to Washington to "help solve this national epidemic."

"It's time to make sure our employers can get back to hiring and the people of West Virginia can have strong, drug-free communities," he said.

While in Southern West Virginia, Manchin visited Oceana Middle School to talk with students who had written him letters urging him to combat drug abuse. Students at the Wyoming County school also wrote to other federal lawmakers earlier this year, asking them to continue the fight against drug abuse.

"These children are such a strong example of what it means to stand up for your community, and today they showed that no matter how old you are, you can make a difference," Manchin said. "I want each and every child in our state to know that there is a bright future if you stay off of drugs—that you will have a good job, be able to provide for your family and be a leader in your community."

Nearly 90 percent of drug overdose deaths in West Virginia are linked to prescription drug abuse, according to information from Manchin's office, meaning the state has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country. To combat this, Manchin and Rockefeller have both proposed or co-sponsored bills in the Senate to regulate drug abuse. Manchin's three-point strategy involves measures to combat drug abuse at the federal level, specifically banning bath salts and synthetic marijuana. Manchin sponsored legislation that would increase penalties for running "pill mills."

The West Virginia Legislature is also working to combat drug abuse at the state level. John Schmidt, past president of the West Virginia Medical Association, spoke to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Health during October interim meetings. There, he presented a list of recommendations relating to drug abuse. Those recommendations include promoting a more proactive prescription monitoring program, enhancing that program's reporting as well as review and confidentiality requirements, better control of scheduled drugs and improved education training and certification, among others.

Schmidt said the WVMA is "deeply concerned about the health of our state" and they see first-hand the affects of drug abuse and misuse.

"Our nation has seen a significant increase in the illicit use of controlled substances over the past decade," Schmidt said in the introduction to the report. "The diversion of prescription medications has risen to epidemic levels. West Virginia, not unlike our counterparts in the rest of Appalachia and many other parts of the country, is reeling from its effects on our citizens and communities."

Senate Bill 1760, a call to increase penalties for "pill mill" operators, was introduced to the Senate and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 20.


By:  Whitney Burdette