CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, both D-W.Va., introduced legislation to combat the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse on Thursday. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., co-sponsored Rockefeller's Senate bill.
Next Thursday, Rahall and Rockefeller will host roundtable discussions about drug abuse at Marshall University in Huntington and at the University of Charleston.
Today, West Virginia has one of the country's highest death rates from overdoses of prescription drugs. Nine out of every 10 drug-related deaths in the state come from prescription drugs, especially opiod painkillers.
Rahall, co-chairman of the Congressional Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus, said, "The prescription drug abuse epidemic is hitting southern West Virginia hard and taking a heavy toll on our families and communities, as well as our businesses and workforce.
"We must do more at the federal level to increase patient awareness and better train health-care providers in order to prevent and treat pill abuse."
Rockefeller said, "I've reached out to West Virginians -- health-care providers, schools, pharmacists -- asking for new ideas on how to reduce prescription drug abuse. This legislation reflects that real, on-the-ground feedback from West Virginia."
Manchin said, "Drug addiction hurts more than just the person abusing drugs. It destroys lives, tears families apart and hurts communities' abilities to create and keep good jobs. ... Too many families and communities have been torn apart by drug abuse and my heart goes out to them."
Rahall will host the roundtable discussion at Marshall University's Forensic Science Center on Thursday morning. It will focus on how federal resources can best be used to combat prescription drug abuse.
Rockefeller and Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, will join Rahall at Marshall.
The roundtable will take place between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. It is open to the public, but will have limited seating.
Rockefeller will convene his roundtable at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Charleston at 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon. It will also be open to the public.
Rahall and Kerlikowske will also participate in the discussion at the University of Charleston, which will focus on the critical need to fill the "substance abuse treatment void" in West Virginia.
The federal legislation -- the Prescription and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act -- was first introduced by Rockefeller and Rahall in 2011, seeking to cut the number of opiod- and methadone-related deaths.
The bill's provisions include:
• New and stricter training requirements for health-care professionals before they can be licensed to prescribe these drugs.
• Consumer education on how to use painkillers safely and prevent abuse.
• Stricter federal clinical standards regulating the safe use and dosage of pain medications.
• Increased federal finances to help prescription drug monitoring programs in various states.
• Comprehensive reporting of opioid-related deaths.
Last month, Manchin testified at a federal Food and Drug Administration hearing, urging that agency to think about placing stricter controls on drugs containing hydrocodone.
"This drug is a highly addictive prescription painkiller that can easily fall into the wrong hands," Manchin said.
"Whenever I go back to West Virginia, I hear how easy it is for anybody to get their hands on hydrocodone-combination drugs. The personal stories I hear from so many West Virginians convinced me that this change is so critical."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.