February 04, 2016

Manchin reads local teacher's letter on drugs' impact on her life to Senate | Beckley Register-Herald

Haley Pettus was teaching English to a group of high schoolers in Beckley at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday.

At the same time, more than 300 miles away, Sen. Joe Manchin, D, stood in the well of the U.S. Senate, reading a letter his office received recently. A letter detailing one child's struggle to live with a mother strung out on pain killers, everything from Xanax and Lortab to oxycodone.

"My mom's one true love was Xanax and I would always come after it, no matter what," the first paragraph reads.

It was signed "A Drug Addicted Daughter (Haley).

The long letter was penned by the same 24-year-old teaching teenagers about foreshadowing, symbolism and other literary devices.

"I may help someone," she said, catching her breath between classes of why she wrote the letter. Letting people know they aren't the only ones dealing with drug abuse in a family. It's often a secret that everyone knows, she said.

The struggle she and her older sisters faced were outlined in details, the embarrassment of seeing a parent headed off to jail more than once for stealing, ruined birthday parties, a young daughter playing the role of parent to the adult.

One experience, Pettus details in the letter, is carrying her mother to bed while mom was on a high.

"When we got home, I took her shoes off so I could put her in bed. I remember being sick to my stomach with worry when I took off her shoe to find a sock completely soaked with blood. She apparently stepped on glass and hadn't even felt the cut because she was too high on pain pills," Pettus wrote to Manchin.

In his floor speech, Manchin said that he believe that the FDA must start taking prescription drug abuse seriously and this will not happen without a cultural change at the agency.

"We have seen too many examples of the FDA standing in the way of efforts to address the opioid abuse epidemic. The FDA delayed for years before finally agreeing to reschedule hydrocodone. My first three years in the Senate were consumed with getting FDA to come around and on this important step.

"Since the change went into effect, we’ve seen the number of prescriptions for combination hydrocodone products such as Vicodin and Lortab fall by 22 percent. And then, after finally taking that step, the next day, the FDA approved the dangerous drug, Zohydro, even when its own experts voted 11-2 against approval. This drug has 10 times the hydrocodone of Vicodin and Lortab, with the capability of killing an individual in just two tablets.

Manchin also chided the FDA for its "outrageous" approval of OxyContin for use for children as young as 11 years old.

These decisions by the FDA are horrifying examples of the disconnect between the FDA’s actions and the realities of this deadly epidemic, Manchin told his colleagues, adding that leaders at the agency, including the director of the division that oversees opioids, are now actively working against the CDC’s efforts to reform prescribing guidelines, which represents a reasonable, commonsense approach to help doctors take into account the very real and prevalent danger of addiction and overdose when prescribing opioids.

Continuing to ready from Pettus' letter, he related that perhaps her most painful memory of her mother as an addict was Pettus' pain pills went missing after giving birth via C-section in early 2014. At the time, mother and daughter's relationship was on the mend. But after having extreme pain from the incision, Pettus discovered her pain pills were were gone.

"When I opened the bottle, there was one pill left. I had eight before and seven were suddenly missing. My mom finally admitted to stealing my medicine and I refused to talk to her for a month," she wrote.

Since that time, mother and daughter are working on rebuilding a relationship. In November, Pettus received a call from her older sister informing her that her mother was having a heart attack. Paramedics struggled to find a pulse or a temperature, she wrote. The mother was helicoptered to a hospital where they shocked her to restart her heart. The mother spent a month in the hospital and nursing home recovering.

"I believe she may be drug free now, but I will never fully trust her," the letter states.

However, that does not stop Pettus from worrying about her mother. "Each time I call and she doesn't answer, I picture her high somewhere, stumbling around."

Pettus said her mother, now 56, is growing as a person. Prior to being interviewed, Pettus asked her mother if she could discuss their past history. To Pettus's surprise, her mother agreed.

"I think she was embarrassed about being an addict," she said. "That embarrassment led to more drug" use.

Pettus concludes her letter Manchin by looking to the future, an uncertain future in southern West Virginia. "I can only pray the problem is addressed and that my son doesn't have to grow up in an area so overtaken by drug abuse," she ends.

Manchin is sponsoring anti-opioids legislation; such drugs kill about 600 West Virginia annually. Manchin has pledged to filibuster the nomination of Dr. Robert Califf to be the new head of the Food and Drug Administration because he does not believe Califf is the right person to properly address the prescription drug abuse crisis.

"Over the past week, my office has been absolutely flooded with stories from West Virginians who want their voices to be heard." Manchin added, "These letters have come from children who have seen their parents die from an overdose; grandparents who have been forced to raise their grandchildren when their kids went to jail, rehab and the grave; and teachers and religious leaders who have seen their communities devastated by prescription drug abuse."

By sharing her story, both Manchin and Pettus hope people will understand the issues of prescription drug use.

"I don't think people understand how bad the drug abuse problem is," said Pettus, who lives in Princeton.

By:  Daniel Tyson