By Mannix Porterfield
Hydrocodone is rapidly becoming the drug of choice in southern West Virginia, and Sen. Joe Manchin is taking his fight against the prescription pain killer into the heart of that region to bolster his second effort to further regulate it.
Manchin plans to conduct an open town hall meeting today at 11 a.m. at the Wyoming County Courthouse in Pineville, with most of his attention on the narcotic that was the subject of a failed proposal a year ago.
Just recently, the senator reintroduced that same bill, one that would elevate hydrocodone from a Schedule III to Schedule II drug.
“I think we actually have a good shot in the House this year,” a Manchin aide said Wednesday.
A year ago, the measure cleared the Senate unanimously, and an expert panel voted 19-10 to recommend that the Federal Drug Administration sign off on it, but the House rejected it.
“That’s a huge problem,” the aide said of hydrocodone.
“The drug has sort of devastated the community.”
Manchin’s office described hydrocodone as “nearly as addictive” as morphine and said drugs that contain it accounted for 139 million prescriptions in the nation in 2010. In that same year, emergency room visits prompted by hydrocodone abuse jumped to 115,000 from 38,000 in 2004.
Two years ago, pharmacies filled 131 million prescriptions of the drug for 47 million people — or enough to pass out 24 pills for everyone living in this country.
In his bid to raise public awareness last year for the Safe Prescribing Act, Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke to some middle school students in Wyoming County and learned how the drug has ripped into the fiber of society there.
“They told him their parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors — everybody — is just being devastated,” the Manchin spokesman said.
What has exacerbated the problem is the ease with which one can get a prescription, by merely feigning a pain in a checkup, he said.
With a prescription, one can get a 90-day supply of the pill, then a refill, the Manchin spokesman said.
“Taking it from Schedule III to Schedule II changes how frequently you can get it, how many times you have to see a doctor before you can get a refill, and how the pharmacy stores it because a lot of people get hooked and go in and rob the pharmacy,” he added.
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