January 31, 2018

Manchin, Huntington fire chief want President Trump to better combat W.Va. opioid epidemic | Clarksburg Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., plans to promote declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency, which would funnel more money to West Virginia to fight the killer epidemic.

Manchin invited Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader to accompany him at the State of the Union address Tuesday night because of her experience in dealing with the aftermath of this drug on a daily basis.

“She is the best representative for West Virginia and the United States to put a real face to fighting the crisis on the front lines and shar(ing) experiences no one else can bring,” Manchin  said.

The national emergency declaration would mean funding for health care and mental-health providers, education, treatment, more monitoring, law enforcement and all the resources needed to attack the problem from all angles, Manchin said.

“There was $500 million distributed last year throughout the country to fight the drug epidemic. Based on population, West Virginia received between $6 million and $7 million,” he said. “They need to redirect the money based on per capita incidents, and I am taking the argument to the White House. We’re going to need billions to fight the war on drugs.”

Rader said the statistics are staggering for Cabell County alone.

“We had 70 overdose deaths in 2015 for a county with a population of 96,000. There were 132 overdose deaths in 2016 and 152 in 2017, and that number will rise as more toxicology reports come in,” she said. “We’re losing people and revenue. It is a very difficult disease to watch, and the collateral damage is immeasurable. It’s such a broad-reaching problem that is devastating. There are children involved in 50 percent of the cases. It is appalling that the distributors haven’t been held accountable for this.”

Manchin agreed, saying the wholesalers and distributors should pay a production fee of a penny a milligram.

“Lawmakers need to quit playing politics and hold them accountable. They are worried about losing a vote,” he said. “The wholesalers and distributors got a slap on the wrist.”

Huntington first responders are seeing five overdoses a day, and it can be emotionally draining on the firefighters, law enforcement officers and EMS workers, Rader said.

“On a daily basis, my guys see the suffering from substance abuse disorder. Sometimes we find people dead. Sometimes it’s too late. I have first responders on the front line seeing 40 to 50 young people dying a year. It’s taking a toll on them. We’re keeping people alive until they can get help they desperately need,” she said.

“We are losing first responders, police officers and EMS workers (who just can’t take it anymore). Sometimes some people wonder if first responders will survive this. They are at war in their homeland. One guy has lost a dozen friends from high school to this epidemic. They don’t want to see that much negativity,” she said.

Rader said the influx of pills caused this substance abuse disorder, and if they can’t get it, they turn to heroin, fentanyl and carfentanyl. It all goes back to opioids, she said.

Manchin said the epidemic must be attacked in a multi-faceted way.

“The monitoring program is extremely important. We need providers, things we can’t get because of funding. There is a lack of law enforcement. We need more State Police. You’ve got to get people cleaned up with treatment, and more court and day reporting that we know is successful,” he said. “It starts with professionals and the DEA. We also need a vigorous education program. We haven’t put enough emphasis and resources toward education from K-12.”

The senator also touched on the need of children for a safe haven and the lack of foster care.

“Money should follow that child. It is our responsibility to make sure they are in a safe place,” Manchin said.

By:  Darlene J. Swiger