July 15, 2016

Sen. Joe Manchin: Passage of drug-abuse law an important step | Huntington Herald-Dispatch

The nationwide opioid abuse epidemic has hit West Virginia harder than it has any other state in our country, and has hit Cabell County harder than any other county in our state. Drug overdose deaths in the Mountain State have soared by 700 percent since 1999. In 2015 alone, we lost 600 West Virginians to opioid abuse, 68 of those from Cabell County.

But West Virginia and Cabell County are not alone in their suffering; prescription drug abuse continues to tear apart families and communities across the country. Fifty-one Americans die every day from opioid abuse, totaling a loss of nearly 200,000 of our loved ones to opioid abuse since 1999.

Yet, the opioid abuse epidemic is not a helpless cause; lawmakers at the local, state and federal level can make a difference in saving the lives of those suffering from addiction.

Since my days as governor, I have never stopped fighting for initiatives to stem the tide of opioid abuse. That is why I am proud to report that the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 (CARA) has passed the Senate and is now on its way to the President's desk.

CARA authorizes more than $170 million in grant funding for a variety of prevention and recovery efforts that address the multifaceted nature of this epidemic. These initiatives include the expansion of prevention and educational efforts - particularly those aimed at teens, parents and other caretakers and aging populations - to prevent abuse of opioids and heroin as well as for treatment and recovery.

To strengthen the effectiveness and widen the scope of CARA, I submitted a number of amendments, including the Consumer Education amendment.

The Consumer Education amendment will help those fighting this epidemic on the front lines by providing communities with the information they need to help stop the spread of opioid abuse and help people seek treatment.

This is a small but crucial measure, as so many people fall into addiction without proper knowledge of the risks of opioids.

The passage of CARA is an important milestone, especially for West Virginia and Cabell County, but more still needs to be done to ensure that those who have the courage to seek help can actually get it.

In 2014, 42,000 West Virginians sought treatment for abuse of an illegal substance but failed to receive it. That includes 2,600 from Cabell County, 250 of which were under the age of 18. These are people who recognized that they needed help, but were turned away simply due to a lack of available facilities or mental health providers. Recovery Point and Lily's Place in Huntington are some of those overloaded facilities. Although Recovery Point is the largest long-term addiction treatment facility in the state with more than 100 beds, there is still a waiting list that is up to six months long.

Not only is Recovery Point the largest facility in West Virginia, it is also one of the most successful. The addiction recovery program revolves around peer-driven support, and as a result costs a fraction of the alternatives - traditional residential care or prison - meanwhile producing lasting results. Of graduates reporting, an entire 99 percent of graduates from Recovery Point had no arrests within a year of graduation, and 93 percent had remained abstinent from drugs and alcohol. This program works, and with planned expansions into other areas of West Virginia it can make a vital impact in the fight against addiction in our state.

Despite the solid first step of passing CARA, there is still much work to be done to increase the number and availability of treatment centers like Recovery Point. We need to continue to fight this epidemic on the front lines by properly training healthcare providers on safe and responsible prescribing practices for opioids. We must change the culture of the FDA and make it take an active role in curbing this epidemic. But above all it is essential that we secure funding for these initiatives.

This is why I have introduced the Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act (LifeBOAT.) If passed by the Senate this bill will help those struggling with addiction by providing a steady, sustainable stream of funding to expand access to substance abuse treatment. This means more beds and staff at Recovery Point. This means increased education on the dangers of opioid abuse.

This means fewer Americans, fewer West Virginians and fewer Cabell County natives will be lost to this terrible epidemic.

As a longtime advocate for efforts to combat the nation's prescription drug abuse epidemic, I am pleased that the U.S. Senate passed CARA, and that we did so in a bipartisan manner. However, we must continue to work together at all levels of government towards fighting abuse and addiction. West Virginia is known as a place where neighbors help one another get back on their feet when times get tough; let's help our neighbors struggling with opioid addiction get back on theirs.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is a Democrat representing West Virginia.