Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 1, 2012

Drug war A wake-up call for Congress

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., says his fellow lawmakers in Congress must act, and “act swiftly,” in helping the states and communities combat the scourge of prescription drug abuse. He’s absolutely correct.

Lawmakers received their marching orders last April during the National Prescription Drug Abuse summit in Orlando, Fla. They were told to enlist, organize and share resources and talents to combat the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Rahall correctly notes that the national summit was a “wake-up call” for Congress to act on legislation that directly tackles the scourge of drug abuse.

Rahall himself has introduced legislation that would arm law enforcement, physicians and local communities in the fight by making it harder for pills to fall into the wrong hands and be misused, while ensuring that prescriptions are properly monitored.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a measure sponsored by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to make it harder to get hydrocodone pills for illegitimate reasons. Manchin’s amendment to the FDA bill moved hydrocodone to the list of Schedule II substances from the list of Schedule III substances. However, a compromise version of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives inexplicably did not contain Manchin’s common-sense provision.

Go figure. The fact that the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican controlled House are unable to agree upon good, common-sense measures, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

In fact, partisan politics in Washington have gotten so bad, they can’t seem to agree upon anything anymore. But when it comes to fighting the plague of prescription drug abuse, partisanship needs to be thrown out the window.

And Congress needs to get to work — immediately — on legislation that can help the states, the communities and law enforcement officials who are on the front-line of the drug war.

Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990 and have now reached alarming new levels. In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs.

Even more alarming is the fact that West Virginia currently has the nation’s highest rate of drug-related deaths. In fact, between 2001 and 2008, more than nine out of 10 of those deaths involved prescription drugs. Drug overdoses now kill more West Virginians each year than car accidents, and are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the state, according to Rahall’s office.

So the question begs to be asked: Why is Congress dragging its feet on national legislation aimed at tackling the drug epidemic. Could partisan politics have something to do with it? If so, that is absolutely shameful.

 

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