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Morrisey snubs Kanawha prescription drug task force

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey declined repeated invitations to speak before a Kanawha County substance abuse task force this fall, even though Morrisey has made the state's prescription drug problem a top priority for his office's Consumer Protection Division.

Dr. Dan Foster, the task force's chairman, said he called Morrisey's representatives several times over the past three months, inviting Morrisey to speak before the panel, which met five times. 

On Oct. 20, Foster sent a written invitation to Morrisey. Foster offered to change the date of the panel's last meeting to accommodate Morrisey's schedule. But Morrisey's administrative assistant informed Foster that Morrisey wouldn't be available, Foster said.

"We felt it would be helpful to hear about what he's doing on substance abuse, and get his ideas and recommendations," Foster said. "We wanted to be flexible because of his schedule. I'm not sure what else I can do."

Morrisey, a former Washington, D.C. lobbyist for companies that manufacture and distribute prescription and over-the-counter drugs, did not respond to a request for comment last week.

On Thursday, the Kanawha County Commission's Substance Abuse Task Force voted on final recommendations to the state Legislature. Morrisey's designee to the task force, Maryclaire Akers, did not attend the meeting. Akers attended the panel's four previous meetings.

Since September, more than a dozen people -- law enforcement authorities, drug policy experts and prosecutors -- have given sworn testimony to the panel.

Foster said he invited Morrisey to speak because the attorney general has set up his own internal task force to combat prescription drug abuse. The five-member group -- housed within the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division - includes former investigators and prosecutors.

In his Oct. 20 letter inviting Morrisey to speak before the Kanawha substance abuse panel, Foster wrote, "...it would be very important to the mission of our group to hear from you regarding your priorities and recommendations for getting our arms around this terrible problem."

"Our desire was expressed for him to present at one of our meetings," Foster said last week. "We felt it would bolster our efforts to come up with recommendations."

In previous statements, Morrisey has said his office's drug task force also will increase public awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

In a September press release, Morrisey said drug abuse was a "top personal priority."

The attorney general announced he would unveil "a number of detailed initiatives to tackle substance abuse" over the "next several months." He has yet to disclose those initiatives.

However, he continues to post messages on his Facebook and Twitter accounts about drug abuse.

On Tuesday, he commented on his Facebook page: "Fight drug abuse! Shouldn't this be a top consumer protection priority? I think so."

Foster and other task force members said they planned to ask Morrisey whether he supported requiring a prescription for cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, which criminals use to make illegal methamphetamine in clandestine labs.

The task force voted 10-2 last week to recommend that the state Legislature law pass a law that would make pseudoephedrine prescription-only.

West Virginia has been overrun by meth labs this year -- more than 460 at last count. Meth cooks are making the illegal drug with pseudoephedrine products, such as Sudafed, purchased at pharmacies across the state, police say.

Morrisey hasn't publicly stated his position on the proposed prescription requirement. 

Last summer, House health committee Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, asked Morrisey to investigate how much pseudoephedrine was being diverted to manufacture meth in West Virginia.

Morrisey said he couldn't respond to Perdue's request because under state law the Attorney General's Office can't disclose "formal investigations."

Perdue revised his request, asking Morrisey to start an "inquiry," instead of an investigation. Morrisey never responded to the follow-up request.

"He never gave any response," Perdue said last week. "And based on his seeming disinterest in talking about the pseudoephedrine issue [with the Kanawha task force], I'm concerned a response my never be penned."

Morrisey, a Republican who defeated longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw last year, received campaign contributions from pharmaceutical executives and drug company political action committees across the United States.

Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, is a longtime lobbyist for Cardinal Health, the nation's second-largest drug distributor. Cardinal Health contributed $2,500 to Morrisey's inauguration party earlier this year.

Before being elected attorney general, Morrisey was a former lobbyist for a drug trade group that represents Cardinal Health and other wholesalers that distribute pseudoephedrine and prescription drugs.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

 

 


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