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Public Statements

Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MANCHIN. Mr. President, since we first began consideration of the FDA bill, I have stood on this floor again and again to highlight the importance of an amendment I offered to this legislation that is very significant to my fellow West Virginians and all Americans.

This amendment would put tighter control on drugs containing a substance known as hydrocodone, a highly addictive prescription painkiller that is destroying communities across this country and leaving families devastated by abuse and addiction.

It was a proud moment for me when the Senate came together across party lines on May 23 and unanimously adopted my amendment to reclassify hydrocodone as a schedule II substance from a schedule III. In practical terms, this means those who are using hydrocodone for illegitimate reasons would have a harder time getting their hands on it.

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 across this Nation who believe very strongly that access to hydrocodone would give them a powerful tool in combating prescription drug abuse. So it pains me to stand here following last night's vote to move forward with the passage of the FDA bill, which did not contain this important amendment. That is because the influence of special interest groups suppressed the voices of the people--not just in the State of West Virginia but in Delaware and all across the country--who are begging us to do something about the prescription drug abuse epidemic.

According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States, and it is claiming the lives of thousands of Americans every year. Prescription drugs are responsible for about 75 percent of all drug-related deaths in the United States and 90 percent in West Virginia. These narcotic painkillers claim the lives of more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined.

But the groups opposed to my amendment have a huge financial stake in keeping these pills as accessible as possible, and I understand that. That is why my amendment was stripped from the FDA bill we advanced last night.

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. On a daily basis, I am hearing from my constituents in West Virginia and all around this country who are counting on us to do something about the prescription drug epidemic ravaging their communities.

Since I offered this amendment, I have heard from so many West Virginians who have seen a ray of hope because we might be able to do something about this problem. I will not pretend it will solve it completely, but it is sure a good step in the right direction. So I am coming to the floor to share the stories of the people of West Virginia, in the hopes of bringing people together around a solution to this terrible problem.

This is from Sheila from Charleston, who sent me this letter in support of my amendment after losing a close family member:

Please continue to fight the drug companies and pharmacies regarding this issue. Our family in the last two months lost a beloved family member to prescription drug overdose. He was a promising young man that lost his life because of addiction to pain medication.

Our family continues to be devastated, wondering how did this happen. He came from a highly-educated family that was involved in his treatment and cared deeply for him. His family spent $100,000+ in his recovery, but it was all too easy for him to obtain legal prescriptions.

What truly makes it more painful is he was showing signs of overcoming his five-year battle.

We are not blaming anyone but the system. We know we are each responsible for our own actions. I have thought for years that our health care system is far behind in technology and record keeping for doctor shopping and prescription dispensing. Please understand I am very much opposed to more government in our personal lives, however this is much needed in the medical arena.

Please continue to fight this enormous battle for us.

That letter could have come from our constituents or any Congressman's home district from anywhere in this great country. The fact is I don't know of a person--whether it be in the Senate, our colleagues in Congress or anywhere in America--who hasn't been affected by the abuse of legal prescription drugs used in the wrong way. It touches everyone's life. It is of epidemic proportion.

I have said it before, and I will say it again. I understand that limiting access to illegitimate uses of hydrocodone pills doesn't necessarily fit into the model of selling more product, but there are times when even the best business plan can be altered while staying successful. Certainly, one of those times is when the health of our country and the public good is at stake.

In fact, the Huntington Herald Dispatch, the second largest newspaper in my State, located right on the border between West Virginia and Ohio, describes why this amendment is so important.

Congress is missing out on an opportunity to close the spigot at least partway on the large volumes of commonly abused prescription drugs that flood the country and harm so many Americans.

In 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, a study showed there were 28,310 recorded instances of toxic exposures from hydrocodone. The same study showed that 24 million individuals have admitted to abusing hydrocodone drugs for nonmedical purposes--unbelievable.

A different study, put out by the Centers for Disease Control in November, showed that more than 40 people die every day from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers such as hydrocodone. Isn't it worth doing something to get the pills out of the wrong hands?

My amendment may not have gone into this bill yesterday, but it is not going to go away--I think we all know that--and I am determined to see this through to the end.

While the people of West Virginia, Delaware, and elsewhere are disappointed in the outcome of the hydrocodone amendment, I do wish to highlight one measure that was included in the legislation that we are proud of and is important to me and everybody in this body. It would make the sale and distribution of synthetic marijuana and other synthetic substances, known as bath salts, illegal by placing them on the list of schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. These drugs are also taking a terrible toll on all our States, and I was proud to cosponsor this provision with my friend Senator Schumer. I want to thank Senator Schumer for his leadership in getting this passed.

Finally, I wish to close with one more story from my home State of West Virginia as a way to remind everyone what I am fighting for and why. This letter comes from Rebecca, a woman who started a group called Mothers Against Prescription Drug Abuse as a way to deal with the terrible realities that have accompanied her son's 5-year 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.....

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. 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.

I will continue to fight prescription drug abuse for as long as I have a breath in my body. I will not give up on my son or anyone else who is addicted. Things need to change within our system. We cannot continue to allow just anyone to have access to prescription pain medicine. Parents need to be educated while their children are still at home. Communities need to be aware of crimes (drug dealers) and report them. Doctors need to stop prescribing pain pills to people on the street, and they need to be held accountable.

What happened to our medical ethics when people who need pain medicine for a while are given strong addictive pain medicine, only to have to keep coming back to the doctor over and over again for refills? Is it greed that is behind the beginning of this growing epidemic? Doctors definitely profit from the addict's return visits, as well as the pharmaceutical companies that make the medicine. We know there is a problem but what are people going to do about it? I am doing what I can, but is it enough? Will you help?

For Rebecca and all the other mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers out there who are pleading for help, we owe it to them to get this amendment agreed to.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.


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