May 25, 2016

Manchin's Act turns pennies into gold | Beckley Register Herald

There is a pit bull terrier hounding the opioid drug overdose epidemic in this country and his name is Joe Manchin. Luckily for us here in West Virginia, he is our U.S. senator.

Manchin, who has studied the issue as closely as any politician in DC, is now pushing something called the LifeBOAT (Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment) Act, which establishes a penny fee on each milligram of active opioid ingredient in a prescription pain pill. The tax would be used to provide and expand access to substance abuse treatment, something sorely lacking not only around our country but especially here in southern West Virginia.

Among other things, funding would go towards establishing new addiction treatment facilities; increasing reimbursement for certified mental health providers providing substance abuse treatment; expanding access to long-term, residential treatment programs; establishing and operating support programs that offer employment services and housing; establishing and operating facilities to provide care for babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome; and establishing and operating substance abuse treatment programs in conjunction with Adult and Family Treatment Drug Courts.

You are aware of our acute need for intervention and treatment in our state. You are aware that we have the highest per capita rate of opioid prescription drug deaths in the nation. You are aware that we have had over 30,000 drug deaths in our state alone in the past five years.

Sobering stats, right?

Well, the senator has a plan. While a one-cent fee doesn’t seem like much, those pennies add up. The Act has the potential to raise between $1.5 billion to $2 billion annually for treatment. That’s a lot of pills. And that is exactly the point – by extension. Much of those monies would be shipped off to states like West Virginia that have been ravaged by the scourge – of so many pills.

Listen, we tax alcohol and we tax cigarettes and we don’t think much about it. And yet there is no tax on opiates, despite the harm they create and the lack of resources available to help those caught in the very powerful vice of addiction.

“A major barrier that those suffering from opioid addiction face is insufficient access to substance abuse treatment,” Manchin said in a press conference on Tuesday as reported by Register-Herald reporter Wendy Holdren on today’s front page. “These are people who have recognized that they need help, but have been turned away because there simply weren’t enough facilities, beds or mental health providers in their community.”

Manchin says 15,000 West Virginians received substance abuse or alcohol treatment in 2014, but 50,000 were identified in need of treatment. That’s a negative balance of some 35,000 people — or about twice the population of Beckley.

We like Manchin’s idea so much, we wonder if there is a way for the state to add on another penny fee — not to balance our budget, though you could make a pretty strong argument that effective drug treatment would lessen costs associated with drug-related incarcerations, but to add to the resources that will be needed to win this war.

We’d like to see top-drawer treatment centers around our state, and one here in the heart of coal country that would help further establish Beckley as a medical hub for southern West Virginia. We would also like to see a spider web of clinics — not notorious pain clinics, mind you —spread throughout the region that would give the kind of medical and psychiatric help those in recovery will certainly need in their lifelong battle.

This is not the senator’s first foray in to addressing issues related to prescription opioid drugs.

Manchin has filibustered the Obama administration’s nominee for commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration because of his close ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He called for an investigation of the FDA’s decision to approve OxyContin for use by children as young as 11 years old. And he was the lead sponsor of a bill to ban hydrocodone.

Earlier this year, he introduced a bill called “Jessie’s Law,” inspired by Jessica Grubb, a Charleston native and heroin addict who recently died after receiving a prescription for opioids after a surgery.

Yes, Sen. Manchin is a pit bull on the issue, exactly the kind of fighter we need.

By:  Editorial