Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 20, 2013

Legislation key to winning war on prescription drug epidemic

— — It’s time to put an end to the prescription drug abuse epidemic that is devastating the lives of too many West Virginians. So many of our fellow citizens have been effected by this epidemic, their heartache so real — parents bailing their children out of jail and putting them in rehab centers, children watching their parents throw away their lives to get just one more pill, families burying loved ones after a fatal overdose.

It has to stop.

Our beautiful state and our great people are not immune to this epidemic. In 2010 alone, 512 West Virginians died from drug overdose — a 353 percent increase since 2000. Emergency room visits have increased by 33 percent in just six years and painkillers now result in more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. And police confiscations of prescription drugs have increased almost 31 percent in just nine years.

According to the National Drug Control Policy, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug abuse problem in the United States, responsible for roughly 75 percent of all drug-related deaths. In West Virginia, they are the cause of 90 percent of overdose deaths.

It has to stop.

That is why I have designed legislation called the “Safe Prescribing Act.” The bill will make it more difficult to abuse addictive pain medication by reclassifying drugs containing hydrocodone from a Schedule III to a Schedule II controlled substance, while maintaining specific protections already in place for legitimate pain patients.

The “Safe Prescribing Act” will help prevent patients from becoming dependent on hydrocodone products by requiring an original prescription from doctors for each refill. It will make it harder for people who do not use the drugs for medical reasons to get their hands on these addictive medicines.

I promise you, though, that for our seniors, miners, disaster victims and those who suffer from debilitating injuries and rely on medication for chronic pain, this measure will not affect their access. It limits the prescription length to 90 days per doctor visit, which will require patients to visit their doctors only four times a year at the most.

Another key provision in the “Safe Prescribing Act” is the requirement that pharmacies keep hydrocodone drugs in locked cages or dispersed randomly on the shelves with Schedule III through Schedule V drugs to prevent the kinds of theft that supply the black market. The number of stolen pills has climbed from 706,000 to 1.3 million in recent years.

Right now, a drug dealer can sell an OxyContin pill, a Schedule II painkiller, for $50 on the street — a $44 markup from its $6 legal value. That, in contrast, to Vicodin, a Schedule III hydrocodone painkiller, sells for $12 a pill or less on the streets, showing the drastic need to dam the flood of pills that are available.

It has to stop.

Reclassifying hydrocodone products will also make it harder for kids to find unused prescriptions in home bathroom cabinets and use them recreationally. And this happens more than you would think.

According to a National Survey of Drug Use and Health report, 9.3 percent of Americans ages 12 and older — or 23.5 million people — have used hydrocodone for non-medical purposes. Another survey from Monitoring the Future reports that 8 percent of 12th graders used Vicodin non-medically in 2010. And it’s certain that these numbers will continue to grow.

It has to stop.

I recognize that my legislation may not fit into the business model for pharmaceutical companies that want to sell as many pills as possible. But we have a responsibility to this great nation of ours — especially to our children — to win this war on prescription drugs, not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, but right now.

It has to start — now.

Sen. Joe Manchin III is a Democratic member of the U.S. Senate serving West Virginia.

1
Text Only
Columns
Editorials
Poll

Do you agree with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s decision to veto a bill that would have codified a student’s right to pray at school? After voting, go to facebook.com/bdtonline to comment.

Yes
No
Undecided
     View Results