By CHAD ABSHIRE
In keynote remarks to the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), outlined three major components to address the growing epidemic of abuse spreading across the Country: education and prevention, coordination of resources, enforcement and shared information monitoring across state lines and enlisting entire community support.
Rahall said, in his opening to the summit, that he had come there with a singular purpose: “to address our nation’s struggle with the scourge of prescription drug abuse.”
“When I held the first prescription drug summit in my district, Karen Kelly of UNITE was the rock star of the morning,” Rahall said. “As she spoke, all around the room, heads were nodding in agreement with her assessment of our struggles and the need to employ proven solutions. Regaling us with her experience of connecting the dots, rallying the troops and sources of support, cooperation, and coordination of resources were like welcome manna from Heaven.
“The message is beginning to resound throughout Appalachia.”
The congressman quoted an editorial that was printed in his hometown newspaper, the Beckley Register-Herald, and said that it “hit the nail squarely on its head.
“It was titled, ‘Drugs - It’s 24-7.’ It argued persuasively, that the scourge we face never sleeps, and it destroys, devastates and decimates every hour of every day,” Rahall said.
“It (the editorial) also made the case that while topics like the economy, health care, world politics, sports and entertainment may dominate the headlines, none of these - individually or as a whole - have the impact on our society the way drug abuse does,” Rahall said. “And, that in reality, drug abuse negatively affects each of these major elements of everyday life for Americans.”
A press release from Rahall’s office stated that, according to a study, the epidemic of prescription drug abuse was costing the nation over $70 billion annually, with over $40 billion in lost productivity.
“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 said.
“Drug abuse is over running health care costs with $1 in every $4 for Medicare inpatient care involving substance abuse, millions of dollars for national and international interdiction, and I haven’t even counted the cost to our jails and prisons systems,” he said.
“This epidemic has no economic barriers. It claims the lives of the rich and famous and many we will never know. It strikes 90-year-old grandmothers with the same lethal blow as it does their 9-year-old grandkids. I know, firsthand, the devastating toll that drug abuse can impose on a family. The resources, patience, and persistence, and the tests of loyalty and love required can be immense.
“And, it’s heart breaking.”
The representative said that a united effort of national, regional, and multi-county resources was critical to the victory for both citizens and communities against prescription drug abuse.
“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,” Rahall said. “We must promote physician, pharmacist and consumer education, as well as authorize federal funding to help states create and maintain prescription drug monitoring programs that all states can access. And, we have to blanket the country with one of our most cost-effective measures: prevention.”
Prevention, Rahall said, was the most economical, effective, physical and mental health saving measure fighters of drug abuse have on their side. He said that with estimates suggesting they could save $10 for every $1 spent on prevention, “surely a budget surplus could not be far behind.”
Likening the fight of prescription drug abuse to that of a war, Rahall also called it a public health crisis, and said that that many people in the audience were foot soldiers on the front lines, “combating the rampant assaults prescription drug abuse is waging against the very foundations of our society.”
“You are fighting this epidemic every day, which affects far too many in our nation,” Rahall said.
“We must remain diligent in our focus and firm in our battle strategy to dismantle drug trafficking and save our citizens and communities from the blight of this epidemic. It’s a fight that requires the sustained support and commitment of all parties at all levels to attack this problem. We must implement reforms and develop and sustain resources like real-time prescription drug monitoring and interstate information sharing, great awareness and education for children and adults, education for health professionals, and greater access to treatment and recovery programs.
“Finally, simply engaging our neighbors, empowering them with information and letting them know they are not alone can profoundly improve neighborhood conditions,” Rahall said. “Working in partnership with law enforcement, not as vigilantes or self appointed marshals, community neighborhoods can take back their homes and look after their neighbors.”
Rahall also said that they needed to involve young people as well.
“Let me say directly to them: your future is limited only by your own actions,” Rahall said. “Be willing to dream big and to fight every day to make your dreams reality. To do that, you need drive, commitment, energy, enthusiasm, and strength - all things that drug abuse takes away from you.”
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), in a press release, applauded the work of experts and leaders from around the country who are gathered at the inaugural National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit, including Rahall and pledged his support to fighting the prescription drug abuse epidemic in West Virginia and the nation.
“I applaud the efforts of Rep. Nick Rahall on the very important issue of drug abuse, and I want to thank him for his participation in the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit,” Manchin said. “There is not a community in West Virginia that has not been affected by drug abuse, either directly or indirectly, and each and every one of us should make eliminating this epidemic a very high priority.
“Drug abuse is devastating our families and our workforce as well as hurting our economy and our education system – we have to work together to get this rampant problem under control.
“Attacking drug abuse head-on is going to take all of our combined efforts, and that is why it is so important that the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit is bringing leaders and experts together – including doctors, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies, law enforcement, community groups, legislators and government agencies, teachers, and parents.
“We need more education, better prescription drug monitoring programs, stricter rules to make these substances harder to obtain for illegitimate purposes, increased penalties for those who illegally distribute drugs, stronger law enforcement efforts and more widely available treatment programs.
“In short, there is not one silver bullet that can solve this problem alone. Like most of our greatest and most important challenges, ending the crisis of drug abuse will take all of us working together.”