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Jay asks federal agencies to increase anti-pill abuse efforts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is asking three federal agencies to step up efforts to counter prescription drug abuse, an increasing problem in West Virginia.

"In our state, prescription drug abuse isn't just in the headlines. It's something families live and grapple with every day," said Rockefeller. "We can tackle this epidemic, and we can change lives.

"The letters I sent to federal agencies are one part of that effort, and I hope the gravity of this issue generates the type of action and response that can truly make a difference."

Rockefeller wrote to the Government Accountability Office, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

He requested that the GAO study the neonatal abstinence syndrome. That syndrome includes a "group of symptoms that occurs in newborns who were exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs, particularly opiods, while in the mother's womb."

Nationwide, one infant born every hour suffers from the syndrome. It creates problems including low birth weight, breathing difficulties, feeding problems and seizures. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., co-signed the letter to the GAO.

He asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for information about how the agency monitors prescription drug abuse by people on Medicaid and Medicare. Rockefeller also asked what the agency is doing to reduce pharmaceutical abuse, recommending that it make stronger efforts to control that abuse.

Rockefeller also asked the FDA about efforts to improve education about methadone for both patients and those who prescribe it.

"Learning about the FDA's efforts on methadone would be useful as the nation seeks ways to address abuse," Rockefeller stated.

Drug abuse in West Virginia has received national publicity.

Kermit, a town in Mingo County, is "America's pill-popping capital ... ground zero of the prescription drug epidemic," according to a Salon.com article from last April.

Sav-Rite Pharmacy operated as a pill mill in Kermit for years -- marketing Xanax, Lortabs and Vicodin -- until officers from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration shut it down in February 2012, Nieves wrote.

War, a town in McDowell County, "is in the hottest hot zone of a lethal epidemic that has spread across America," wrote Vince Beiser in "Overdose County, USA," an April 2012 Playboy article.

Tom Hatcher, the mayor of War, told Beiser that his own son overdosed on prescription pills four times in recent years. "I think the reality is he will kill himself eventually. ... A lot of people say there is nothing we can do. But we can't stop trying."

During the past 10 years, nine out of 10 drug-related deaths in West Virginia were caused by overdoses from prescription drugs, especially opoid painkillers, Rockefeller noted.

In December, the Drug Enforcement Administration created a permanent prescription drug disposal plan to help prevent abuse. The new rule requires DEA agents to "enforce a safe and lawful disposal method for prescription drugs."

Rockefeller has also sent many letters about prescription drug abuse to an array of agencies and individuals, including West Virginia health care providers, schools and pharmacists, as well as to national health-care associations.

He urges all these groups to make sure all people and businesses prescribing pharmaceuticals get training about controlled substances.

Rockefeller was an original co-sponsor of a Senate resolution that named October as "National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month."

He also introduced the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to send more federal money to states to help create prescription drug monitoring programs to stop "doctor shopping" and drug trafficking across state lines.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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