February 04, 2016

Stories like Haley's inspire me to keep fighting drug abuse problem | Beckley Register-Herald

In southern West Virginia, a young girl by the name of Haley was excited for her 12th birthday party. Eager to spend the day celebrating with her friends, she was deeply hurt and embarrassed, though not entirely surprised, when the day took an unfortunate turn. Her mother, a longtime addict of prescription pills, failed to appear for much of the party, leaving Haley’s 16-year-old sister to pay for the event. Haley’s mom eventually showed at her daughter’s party, but by that time, her eyes were bloodshot and rolling back in her head.

Such instances have been tragically common in Haley’s life and in the lives of so many in our state. We all know someone with a similar story. This is just one of the many memories that Haley shared with me. I was moved to share them on the Senate floor Wednesday as part of my efforts to underscore how drug abuse is devastating our families and communities.

With her mother frequently in and out of jail and rehab, Haley spent much of her childhood living with grandparents. She recalls spending afternoons alongside her grandmother, scouring the town for her mother, only to find her high and passed out at acquaintances’ homes. Her mother’s addiction nearly caused Haley to fail all of her ninth grade courses.

Haley, who is now married with a young son and teaches, laments that the only thing worse than not having a mother is having one who chooses drugs over her children. She now yearns for her own child to grow up in a community no longer overtaken by prescription drug abuse and believes action must be taken before West Virginia’s opioid abuse epidemic intensifies further.

I could not agree with Haley more. Having lost nearly 200,000 Americans to prescription drug abuse since 1999, our country is experiencing the worst opioid epidemic of its history. In 2014, the United States lost 51 people each day to prescription drug overdose. Our state tragically leads the nation in drug overdose deaths, with nearly 34 deaths per 100,000 people.

While these statistics are staggering, it is the stories of individual West Virginians like Haley that inspire me to take every action possible to combat opioid abuse. That’s why I plan to continue reading the personal stories from West Virginians to my colleagues and to the American people. 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, teachers and religious leaders who have seen their communities devastated by prescription drug abuse.

These people need help from the federal government, including the FDA, and so do the millions of Americans across the U.S. who have been affected.

I’ve fought against this epidemic since I was governor, and I have continued to fight hard since my first day in the United States Senate. The successful effort to reschedule hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II — an effort I led from 2011 to 2014 — has helped reduce the number of opioid prescriptions by 26.3 million, the equivalent of 1.1 billion pills.

And earlier this year, I successfully pushed to have Jefferson County designated as our state’s 19th High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which will bring additional federal funding to West Virginia to ensure that local law enforcement officials and drug task forces have the resources they need to combat the influx of drugs coming into the state.

Despite these progresses, the fight against prescription drug abuse is far from over. A recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine found that more than 90 percent of patients who had survived an opioid overdose between 2000 and 2012 continued to receive opioid medications from their doctors. Although such prescribing may be appropriate for some patients, this shocking statistic indicates major flaws in our nation’s healthcare system.

America’s doctors must receive guidance and education on responsible prescribing methods to ensure that patients at a high risk of overdose receive the appropriate treatment. The need for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) opioid prescribing guidelines is more urgent than ever before. These guidelines will provide common sense guidance to physicians for prescribing opioids to treat patients and urge greater consideration of the very real risks of opioid addiction and overdose when prescribing these drugs. That is why I have sent a letters to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, and the CDC Director urging them to quickly finalize the strongest possible set of recommendations. Unfortunately, though these guidelines were originally supposed to be finalized in January, they have been delayed in the wake of opposition from companies that have a significant financial stake in the sale of opioid painkillers, as well as the FDA itself. An immediate release of these guidelines would help reverse the trend of prescription drug abuse and save countless lives.

To curb the devastating opioid epidemic, we also need the FDA to prioritize public health over the pharmaceutical industry’s profits. I will address the need for a culture change at the agency by speaking on the Senate floor every week in opposition to the confirmation of the Obama administration’s nominee to be the new FDA Commissioner, Dr. Robert Califf. With a history of strong ties to the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies and given the FDA’s failure in the past to properly weigh the risks of addiction and overdose when approving ever stronger opioid drugs, Dr. Califf isn’t the champion we need to reverse the opioid epidemic.

I will read aloud to my Senate colleagues the letters of West Virginians such as Haley who are suffering from the effects of prescription drug abuse themselves, in their families, and in their communities.

The time to act against the prescription drug abuse epidemic is now. We cannot sit back as the lives of our loved ones across West Virginia and the nation are being torn apart by the effects of prescription drug abuse. I encourage all those who are willing to share their experiences on how prescription drug abuse has impacted their lives to send their stories to me to read on the Senate floor at endtheopioidcrisis@Manchin.senate.gov.

Together, we can reverse the trend of prescription drug abuse for the sake of our families, communities, state and country for generations to come.