By Mary Catherine Brooks
Wyoming County Bureau Chief
Prescription drug abuse is a nationwide problem as well as a major health issue in southern West Virginia.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., discussed various ways the problem might be better controlled during a town hall meeting in the Wyoming County Courthouse Thursday. He is sponsoring legislation to have hydrocodone re-classified from a schedule three prescription drug to a schedule two.
That would prevent doctors from prescribing dozens, even hundreds, of pills at one time, Manchin explained.
“It would give us a little better control,” Manchin said.
Physicians could prescribe enough medication for 30 days with refills for two additional months, according to Manchin. Then, the consumer would have to return to the doctor.
Those with legitimate need for the pain medication would be able to get it, but those who want to abuse the prescription would have a more difficult time, he said.
That would address some of the pill mills that make the narcotic available cheaply and in large quantities, the senator noted.
“Right now it’s up to the FDA,” Manchin said.
He added that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t act, then the U.S. Congress will likely pass the legislation.
Raleigh County Sheriff Steve Tanner noted there are two doctors in southern West Virginia who prescribe more OxyContin than any others in the United States. He said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has the authority to stop this, but they won’t act.
Tanner said, the way the laws are written in West Virginia, doctors are practically immune from prosecution, and federal authorities, who could act to stop it, won’t.
Manchin said if given the names of the doctors, he could get federal agencies involved.
Additionally, Tanner asked Manchin to explore the possibility of legislation that would also require cash drug transactions at pharmacies to be entered into databases just as those paid by insurance or with Medicare or Medicaid.
Tanner noted such a program could be instituted with little to no cost since “the work has already been done.”
The sheriff also voiced his concern over curtailing prescription drug abuse to the point that 20,000 addicts in southern West Virginia would have to endure withdrawal, with fewer than 400 beds available for such treatment.
“We would have to have federal help,” Tanner emphasized, adding it would be an epidemic.
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