March 22, 2016

Manchin, VA hospital staff discuss drug abuse among vets | The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., met Monday with staff at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center about drug abuse among military veterans.

The discussion focused on prescription pain relievers that can become addictive, Manchin told reporters after the meeting at the Clarksburg hospital.

“The big concern we have is the amount of narcotics and opiates on the market today, and they’re everywhere,” Manchin said. “A lot of our veterans come back (from the service) with addictions.

“We’ve got to help them transition into a drug-free life, into a normal routine and into the private sector” as productive citizens, the senator added.

The doctors and staff at the local VA hospital are committed to “not just going to the prescription pad first,” Manchin said.

“There’s other ways, whether it be acupuncture, whether it be equine therapy, or whether it be agriculture (therapy),” Manchin said.

“There are so many ways that people can deal with pain versus just going to a pill bottle, if you will, because it destroys lives, and we’re trying to change the culture,” he said.

That includes educating doctors, pharmacists and others in health care about the addictive qualities of pain relievers, Manchin said.

Doctors will readily admit they get very little information about the effects of opiates, Manchin said.

“Doctors are taught to basically get you healthy,” he said. “They look at you. They make a diagnosis and go from there. You can’t diagnose somebody saying: ‘I’ve got a pain.’ That’s discretionary.”

While the doctor will tell the patient he shouldn’t have pain, the patient will insist he does and demand something to relieve it, Manchin said.

“Once they get that something, they want more of it,” Manchin said.

Citizens also aren’t trained to know the harmful effects of painkillers until it’s too late, he said.

West Virginia leads the nation in the death rate from drug overdoses, averaging over 600 per year, Manchin noted.

Armed with that statistic, Manchin said he plans to approach Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald about doing a pilot project at the local VA hospital.

If successful, such a program in the state with the highest rate of fatal overdoses could serve as a model for other states, he said.

Helping veterans who have sacrificed so much for their country is an obligation, Manchin said.

“We owe it to them to do everything possible to make sure they’re getting the care they need and in a timely fashion,” Manchin said.

Dr. Glenn Snider, the medical center’s director, said he and the staff had a fruitful meeting with Manchin.

“We were very grateful to have a dialogue with the senator to discuss improved patient care and improved patient safety and to recommend ways the VA could participate in reducing narcotics abuse and narcotics deaths in West Virginia,” Snider said.

Manchin’s meeting with the VA hospital staff was one of several stops in Harrison County Monday.

The senator also attended the formal swearing-in of his cousin, Michael Aloi, as a U.S. magistrate for Northern West Virginia and spoke at the 33rd annual Frank Loria Awards Banquet.

Manchin also will share his concerns about substance abuse with community leaders elsewhere in the state throughout the week. Other stops will be in St. Mary’s, Parkersburg, Huntington and Charleston.

By:  Jim Davis