By CHAD ABSHIRE
Treating his fight against prescription drug abuse as a war and using language reflecting such, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) yesterday called upon regional substance task forces in southern West Virginia to share insights and expertise with him to prepare for a summit regarding the issue.
“As the foot soldiers on the front lines combating the rampant assaults prescription drug abuse is waging against the very foundations of our society – the family, our workplaces, and throughout our communities – I need your help,” wrote Rahall, a senior member of the Congressional Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus.
The congressman is preparing to participate in the upcoming National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit, the first-ever conference of U.S. leaders to address prescription drug abuse. He wrote a letter shared with Region 5 and 6 Task Force members at their meetings this week.
“Every day, you work with the devastating and far reaching toll that prescription drug abuse is taking on the most innocent among us: our children,” Rahall wrote. “From the empty stomachs of kids arriving at school on Monday mornings – as the Register-Herald reported last week because some parents are so strung out they don’t bother to feed their children the whole weekend – to Sunday’s Herald-Dispatch editorial pointing out surveys that ‘estimate more than eight million children live with at least one parent with a drug or alcohol problem; that is more than 13 percent of the children five years old or younger, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.’”
Rahall, who has been quoted multiple times previously as referring to prescription drug abuse as a “scourge” on the community, will participate with federal officials, health experts, lawmakers, and national community organizations in discussion panels throughout the three day summit scheduled for April 10-12, organized by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in partnership with Operation UNITE, based in Eastern Kentucky. The summit has been designed to give stakeholders from across the country an opportunity to meet, share experiences, and develop actions that will help protect families, schools and workplaces, while still meeting the wants of those with legitimate needs for medications.
“I will be there fully participating. I want to paint, as accurately as possible, the portrait of havoc the prescription epidemic is reaping upon us in southern West Virginia,” wrote Rahall. “I have met with many of you already, and some of you helped submit testimony to a recent Congressional hearing that Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and I had requested.
“But, I would appreciate it if you could provide me with some additional information. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a personal experience must be worth a million. I want to present our worst cases and our best solutions. You can help me drive home your message to a national audience of experts and lawmakers by relating these to real life situations and experiences.”
Rahall aims to highlight the detrimental impact of substance abuse on West Virginia’s ready workforce, and to continue growing the partnership initiated with federal and state agencies, and local and regional community resources, a press release from Rahall’s office stated.
“When we say drug abuse impacts a ready workforce, we really are concluding whole regional economies are being affected, and that means completely innocent families are being hurt,” Rahall wrote. “With almost every sector of our economy being impacted, I believe we can build a coalition of strong national partners – public and private, non-profit and for-profit entities – which can help bring important resources to the table. We have people, aged nine to ninety, endangering their health; we have to blanket the country with one of our most cost-effective measures: prevention.”
Rahall strongly believes prevention, especially, must be addressed and more fully funded, the press release stated. Treatment and recovery strategies and resources have to be strengthened, and the problem must be approached from a regional, even multi-state perspective.
The congressman recently testified on a Member panel at a hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security to help advance legislative efforts to address the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
He also led a bipartisan request for the hearing by the Committee, which holds jurisdiction over the legislation proposed by Rahall, the “Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act,” the House companion measure to the Senate bill authored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), which would promote physician and consumer education, as well as authorize federal funding to help states create and maintain prescription drug monitoring programs that all states can access.
Last year, Rahall hosted a summit in Wyoming County to bring together federal, state, and local officials to focus resources on the burgeoning problem of prescription drug abuse in West Virginia.
“I want to be your eyes and ears at the national summit and report back to you,” Rahall wrote, concluding his letter. “Working together, I remain convinced we can overcome any challenge and fully engage and embrace every opportunity for our state.”