Senator Jay Rockefeller and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall today announced they have introduced companion legislation to combat the growing prescription drug abuse epidemic. Senator Joe Manchin cosponsored the Senate bill.
In the last decade, West Virginia has experienced a tragic increase in deaths and overdoses from prescription drugs. West Virginia has one of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the country, and nine out of ten drug-related deaths in the state result from the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs, especially opioid painkillers.
"I've reached out to West Virginians -- health care providers, schools, pharmacists -- asking for new ideas on how to reduce prescription drug abuse. This legislation reflects that real, on-the-ground feedback from West Virginia. And it addresses a complex problem in an equally intricate way," Rockefeller said. "Prescription drug abuse is ripping our communities at the seams -- so we need a broad, no-holds-barred approach to tackling it. That's what this legislation offers."
"The prescription drug abuse epidemic is hitting southern West Virginia hard and taking a heavy toll on our families and communities, as well as our businesses and workforce. We must do more at the Federal level to increase patient awareness and better train health care providers in order to prevent and treat pill abuse. These are straightforward and necessary policy changes that need to take effect and I will press hard for action in the House of Representatives," said Rahall, who is a co-chairman of the Congressional Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus.
"Drug addiction hurts more than just the person abusing drugs; it destroys lives, tears families apart and hurts communities' abilities to create and keep good jobs," Manchin said. "To fight our state's drug abuse epidemic, we need to take a positive step toward combating this escalating problem in our state and across our country. Too many families and communities have been torn apart by drug abuse and my heart goes out to them. They need to know that I am determined to do everything I can to curb drug abuse."
Through a multifaceted approach to addressing the unsafe use of prescription pain killers, the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which Rockefeller and Rahall first introduced in 2011, would help decrease the number of opioid and methadone-related deaths in West Virginia and nationwide through:
New training requirements for health care professionals before they can be licensed to prescribe these drugs;
Consumer education on the safe use of painkillers and preventing diversion and abuse;
Basic clinical standards for safe use and dosage of pain medications, including methadone;
Increased federal support for state prescription drug monitoring programs; and
Comprehensive reporting of opioid-related deaths to help guide solutions.
On February 21, Rockefeller will join a roundtable discussion Rahall is hosting at Marshall University's Forensic Science Center on efforts to address the public health and safety challenges of prescription drug abuse and trafficking in West Virginia. Speaking with them will be White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Gil Kerlikowske, who joined Rockefeller in the state two years ago for a discussion on this growing epidemic.
Rockefeller will convene a roundtable later that day with Rahall and Kerlikowske at the University of Charleston focused specifically on the critical need to fill the substance abuse treatment void in West Virginia.