By CHAD ABSHIRE
Two West Virginia Congressmen recently spoke before Congress, urging them to increase effort to combat prescription drug abuse.
U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) joined members of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse at a briefing for members of Congress, hosted by Operation UNITE on Tuesday, to provide an overview and findings from the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit held in April on the abuse of prescription medications, and to advance short and long-term solutions to “attack the scourge now classified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as an epidemic.”
“Enlist, organize, share resources and talents are the marching orders we gave and got this afternoon in an encouraging briefing with members of Congress and Operation UNITE on where we stand since the first National Rx Abuse Summit,” Rahall, a senior member of the Congressional Caucus, said. “The Summit was a national wakeup call and I believe we have made some important inroads in getting more members of Congress involved in working on national legislation to confront the scourge of abuse.”
According to a news release from Rahall’s office, the abuse of prescription drugs is now considered the greatest drug threat facing our nation and carries the economic cost of rougly $72.5 billion annually. And that doesn’t include the human toll prescription drugs have.
“I have introduced legislation that would arm our law enforcement, physicians, and local communities in this fight - making it harder for pills to get into the wrong hands and be misused, and ensuring that all prescriptions are properly monitored,” Rahall said.
U.S. Sen.Joe Manchin, (also D-W.Va.) on the same day that Rahall spoke, shared personal stories of West Virginians on Senate floor “who are demanding that lawmakers confront the prescription drug epidemic”
One story in particular came in the form of a letter which Manchin read aloud. It was from a woman named Rebecca, who started a group called Mothers Against Prescription Drug Abuse as a way to deal with the realities that had accompanied her son’s battle with prescription drug abuse.
“Jamie was a great kid growing up. He played basketball, football, and baseball. When he was 14-years-old his team won the state tournament and went all the way to Wisconsin to play in Regionals. Jamie was always helping others and had such a kind heart,” Manchin read. “When Jamie got out of school, he married his high school sweetheart and was employed in the mines. After that he just went downhill. He began abusing prescription drugs. For two years I tried everything to get help for him and tried to get him to stop. Things only got worse. He lost his wife, his home, his truck and then his freedom.
“My story is typical to so many families out there who are struggling with loved ones that are addicted,” Manchin read. “They just want someone to listen. They need to be able to reach out to someone who understands the nightmare that they go through daily, and know that they are not alone. The addict is not the only one who suffers. The family members carry around guilt, sadness, shame, anger, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, etc. I could go on and on about how bad this experience has been for me and how it has not stopped.”
Manchin had offered a measure to put tighter controls on hydrocodone and the measure passed unanimously across party lines in the Senate, but was ultimately rejected after a fight led by high-powered lobbyists, a news release from Manchin’s office stated.
“I cannot tell you how much this amendment means to the people of West Virginia and to every law enforcement group fighting the war on drugs, who believe very strongly that limiting access to hydrocodone would give them a powerful tool in combating prescription drug abuse,” Manchin said. “So it pains me to stand here today, following last night’s vote to move forward with passage of the FDA bill, which did not contain my amendment. High-powered and well-funded lobbyists may have gotten their victory this time around.
“But I can assure you, I will not give up this fight. For Rebecca and all of the other mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers out there who are pleading for help, we owe it to them to get this amendment passed. ”
Rahall also spoke of stories that had been told to him from people who had been affected by prescription drug abuse.
“From the evidence and testimonials submitted to me on the toll of destruction and devastation heaped upon West Virginia’s families and our economy by this epidemic, one unmistakable conclusion emerges. The United States Congress must act, and act swiftly, to help our state and communities in combating prescription drug abuse,” Rahall said. “Our jails and prisons are filling up. Local businesses are hurting because of it. Communities are being heavily taxed by it. And, local leaders are looking for answers to it. I know that our fight against prescription drug abuse will require the work of an entire village.”