Sen. Manchin targets prescription drug epidemic

CHRIS DORST | Gazette photos
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, was in Charleston Tuesday to tour the 2015 St. Jude’s Dream Home being constructed at Rockcrest Pointe, in South Charleston. Earlier Tuesday, Manchin told the Gazette officials should go after physicians who overprescribe medication.
Manchin toured the 2015 St. Jude’s Dream Home after buying the first $100 raffle ticket Tuesday. It is being built at Rockcrest Pointe.

At a national drug summit today, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., plans to unveil proposed legislation that aims to curb prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths.

One bill would place new painkiller medications under greater scrutiny, making it more difficult for the Food and Drug Administration to ignore the advice of its own drug advisory panel, which reviews new medicines before they’re approved for sale. Manchin’s second bill would set up new requirements for medical professionals who prescribe pain pills — along with other drug-fighting measures.

West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, and prescription pills have played a part in many of those deaths.

“The biggest problem we have is the doctors who are killing people because they’re habitually overprescribing,” Manchin said Tuesday in Charleston. “Unless we go after these doctors, we’re no going to stop this. They’re getting too much money seeing these patients every day.”

Manchin is one of six federal lawmakers scheduled to speak at the National Prescription Drug Summit in Atlanta. U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, a Republican who represents West Virginia’s 3rd congressional district, also plans to speak today at the event.

Over the past two years, Manchin has been an outspoken critic of the FDA. In 2013, the senator fumed after the FDA approved the powerful painkiller Zohydro, even though the agency’s advisory panel voted 11-2 to reject the drug. Since then, the FDA has approved two other potent pain medications without seeking the panel’s input.

Under Manchin’s first bill — called the “FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act” — the agency’s panel would be required to review new opioid-based medications used to treat pain. The FDA would have to submit reports and testify before Congress before such medications received final approval.

“This holds the FDA accountable for what they’re doing,” Manchin said. “The question is why are there so many painkiller medications coming into the market? Why does the FDA not take the recommendations of its own advisory council?”

Manchin’s second bill — labeled the “Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act” — would set aside $15 million a year over four years for programs that educate people about the dangers of prescription narcotics.

The legislation would require that medical professionals complete 16 hours of training before they’d eligible to prescribe pain pills such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

“What we’re finding is a lot of people haven’t been educated how addictive these drugs are and how they’re prescribing them,” Manchin said.

The bill also would give law enforcement officers more access to their state’s controlled substance monitoring database, which tracks pain-pill prescriptions.

In addition, the legislation would set up a federal registry of pain-pill overdose deaths and require annual reports on those preventable deaths.

“There’s more legal prescription drugs that are harming people than illegal drugs,” Manchin said.

Manchin, who plans to introduce the bills later this month when the U.S. Senate returns from a two-week recess, said he’s traveled to Southern West Virginia and witnessed firsthand how the region’s prescription drug “epidemic” devastates families and communities.

“You have children who see their family being destroyed because their father might have gotten hurt in a mine and becomes addicted,” Manchin said. “They’re reaching out, they want help. We’ve got to do something.”

Also Tuesday, Manchin said he remains undecided on whether to enter the West Virginia governor’s race. He said he hopes to make a decision by Memorial Day. Manchin served two previous terms as governor.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

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