April 12, 2015

We have the passion, wisdom to stop drug deaths | Sunday Gazette-Mail

A long time ago, I learned an important lesson from my grandparents Mama Kay and Papa Joe. They taught me that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That has never resonated louder than this past week when I traveled to Atlanta to participate in the 2015 National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit.

Professionals from local, state and federal agencies, state and national leaders, clinicians, treatment providers, counselors, educators and advocates gathered for one mission: to combat prescription drug abuse. A lot of information was shared, a lot of facts were presented, and a lot of legislative ideas were discussed. Why? Because the thousands of people who showed up care to make a difference.

It is no secret that prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in West Virginia and across the United States, claiming the lives of thousands of Americans every year. Last year alone, 17,000 people died from prescription drug overdoses, and more Americans were killed from prescription drugs than heroin and cocaine combined. That’s 46 Americans each day or two deaths every hour.

Alarmingly, our kids are partaking in recreational pill popping more and more. Every single day, 2,500 adolescents will abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time, including Vicodin, OxyContin, and Lortab. Today, 2.1 million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids, and approximately 329,000 new patients are diagnosed with opioid and heroin addiction each year.

Discouragingly, the facts are even worse in West Virginia, which has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country with nearly 90 percent of those deaths linked to prescription drug abuse. The number of drug overdose deaths in West Virginia increased by 605 percent between 1999 and 2010.

Yet, as startling as these statistics are standing on their own, the true narrative of substance abuse can only be told through the stories of those individuals, families, and communities impacted. This past week, those shared stories hit a reality some of us cannot even begin to imagine. Families are torn apart because the weight of addiction bears down on personal relationships and financial securities. Kids as young as 5 or 6, already in the care of grandparents or neighbors because their parents are hooked on pills, complain that they cannot play outside because too many needles coat the playgrounds, sidewalks and yards.

Those who are injured become dependent on painkillers because we do not do enough to help them find alternative pain management. City officials battle economic instability and unemployment because potential hires fail to pass drug tests. And most critically, law enforcement officers, emergency responders, physicians and counselors struggle every day to save more lives from overdoses and preventable deaths.

These narratives are not unique to any town, city, state or region across America. No one escapes these realities, which is why this week’s summit was a crucial opportunity to come together from all corners of this nationwide problem and seriously address ways to stem the tide of this epidemic.

I was proud to join many leaders at the local, state and federal level to not only discuss a few recent victories, particularly the rescheduling of hydrocodone, but to also address new ways to battle substance abuse.

When I return to Washington next week, I will be introducing two bills to help combat prescription drug abuse.

The first is the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. This bill will establish a Consumer Education Campaign that creates a grant program for states or nonprofits to conduct culturally sensitive consumer education about opioid abuse; strengthens training requirements for medical practitioners; provides law enforcement officials information from the prescription monitoring program database on an individual who is the subject of an active drug-related investigation; and finally helps prevent prescription drug abuse under Medicare Part D.

The second bill is the FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act, which will ensure that experts’ voices are heard when the Food and Drug Administration is considering new, dangerous opioid medications. This bill will hopefully prevent the approval of drugs like Zohydro while supporting the approval of drugs that are tamper-resistant and abuse-deterrent.

There is no doubt that we have a long way to go. There is also no doubt that we need to find a better balance between those who truly need prescription drugs to ease their critical pain and those who misuse and abuse them.

But it is also clear that our nation has reached a crisis point, and ignoring the problem is simply unacceptable. We have a responsibility to this great nation of ours — especially to our children — to battle substance abuse. With the continued collaboration of our community members, state officials and national leaders, coupled with smart solutions, we will be able to beat this epidemic once and for all. I know because each and every one of the thousands of individuals at this year’s national prescription drug abuse summit had the passion, devotion and resolve to fight and win the war on prescription drug abuse.

It is my hope that the people of West Virginia, and individuals across America, recognize that together we can and will overcome this epidemic and save hundreds of thousands of lives.

By:  By Sen. Joe Manchin