CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin said Wednesday that he would call for an investigation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, after reports that drug companies paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get access to an FDA panel on painkillers.
During a telephone news conference, Manchin, D-W.Va., said he was "totally frustrated trying to figure out how to get the Federal Drug Administration to regulate hydrocodones," which include prescription painkillers like Vicodin and Lortab.
A report from the Trust for America's Health earlier this week said that West Virginia has the highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in the country, and that the rate is six times higher than it was a decade ago.
"I have been absolutely consumed with fighting this war on drugs in West Virginia since I was governor. It was of epidemic proportions and it has gotten worse," Manchin said. He noted that he had visited towns like Oceana, which was recently featured in a documentary titled "Oxyana," a reference to the prescription painkiller OxyContin, an opioid painkiller like hydrocodone.
Manchin would like to see the FDA change hydrocodone from a Schedule III drug to a Schedule II drug, which would make it harder to prescribe the drug.
On Wednesday, Manchin wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
"The painkiller industry is a booming business, with profits growing to $9 billion in the United States. As the painkiller market grows, so does the 'epidemic' of addiction and abuse," Manchin wrote.
The federal Centers for Disease Control recently released statistics about the role opioid pain relievers play in overdose deaths. Drug overdose deaths reached 22,134 last year. Most of those deaths involved pharmaceutical drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone.
"This is a problem that the FDA must address," Manchin wrote to Hamburg.
Drugs like hydrocodone are imposing "a horrific rate of deterioration on our society, Manchin said during his press conference. "We want to make sure people get the medicine they need and the amount they need. But we need hydrocodone changed from a Three to a Two."