This coming week, I will take on one of the most important tasks I have as your U.S. Senator: speaking up for those who don't have a voice on an issue that is destroying families and communities across our state -- prescription drug abuse.
Our great state and this nation are seeing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse that I hear about in every city, town and home that I visit.
I've worked hard to give law enforcement and the medical community more tools to put a stop to this needless epidemic, and there will be an important meeting on Oct. 29 and 30 to talk about making it more difficult for people to abuse hydrocodone. Right now, hydrocodone is classified as a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substances Act, but law enforcement experts, doctors and I believe that this drug is so easy to abuse that it should be elevated to a Schedule II substance, which faces stricter controls.
At the meeting, we'll discuss whether or not hydrocodone should face these tighter controls. You can watch the meeting live online, but I want to share with each and every West Virginian some of the remarks that I plan to deliver in case you can't follow the proceedings.
Earlier this month, I asked the people of our state to share some of their stories -- so that I can share them at the hearing -- and here are some of the stories that touched me the most.
Let's start with law enforcement, those on the front lines. West Virginia law enforcement officers tell me that for underage children, these drugs are easier to get than alcohol and tobacco. This is what a Berkeley Springs deputy sheriff shared with me:
As a high school student here in the 90's, the biggest thing facing teens was marijuana and alcohol abuse. Now it seems our youth is skipping this, and going straight to the painkillers; as if the former wasn't bad enough.
The biggest problem I see with the abuse of prescription drugs -- especially hydrocodone -- is how it is prescribed. It seems any 18 to 25 year old can go to any doctor, claim they have chronic pain, and get a recurring prescription for 120+ of these pills PER MONTH! The high price people are willing to pay for these drugs on the street inevitably gives our young, drug dealing citizens more incentive to continue in their illegal behavior than to earn an honest living.
West Virginia doctors echo their law enforcement counterparts. Here's what I heard from one physician in Mt. Clare:
As a physician who struggled with addiction to hydrocodone and who dealt with the complicated issues of treating patients who suffer painful conditions and sought relief, I am familiar with hydrocodone use and abuse. Hydrocodone emerged as a highly effective agent that we later understood to be highly addictive but as a Schedule III it was easy to administer and access. In my own practice, it was far too easy to "call it in" to a pharmacy and to refill without seeing a patient and issuing a written prescription.
There are plenty of examples supporting this doctor. All the people on the front lines of fighting prescription drug abuse -- police, prosecutors, doctors and nurses, not to mention independent groups and numerous studies -- tell us pretty much the same story: hydrocodone combination drugs have just as high potential for abuse as other Schedule II drugs such as oxycodone and oxymorphone.
Of course, my bipartisan legislation had opponents, mostly from interest groups representing those who stand to make lots of money selling as many pills as possible.
But I refuse to back down because this change is critical. Consider what one mother in Charleston said:
Please continue to fight the drug companies and pharmacies regarding this issue.?Our family in the last 2 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. We are not blaming anyone but the system. We know we are each responsible for our own actions. Please understand I am very much opposed to MORE government in our personal lives however this medical arena is much needed. Please continue to fight this enormous battle for us.
I am determined not to give up, and I will continue to tell the story of prescription drug abuse until this epidemic ends.
The meeting will be webcast at the following address: