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FDA head talks opioid addiction in hard-hit West Virginia

Published: May. 24, 2016 at 5:25 PM EDT
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UPDATE (8/9/2016):

During a discussion on opioid abuse in West Virginia, the federal Food and Drug Administration's leader drew positive feedback from a U.S. senator who opposed his confirmation earlier this year.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf attended a Charleston round-table discussion on opioid abuse Tuesday with Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and other officials.

Manchin opposed Califf's confirmation in February, pointing to Califf's ties to the pharmaceutical industry and the scourge of prescription drug abuse in the state. On Tuesday, Manchin said Califf has made positive changes.

Califf plans to meet soon with top Drug Enforcement Agency officials about the huge volume of opioids prescribed nationally.

According to 2014 federal health statistics, West Virginia leads the nation in drug overdose deaths, with 35.5 per 100,000 people.

Joe Manchin released the following statement about the round-table discussion:

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U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin participated in a drug abuse roundtable with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf in Charleston today. The Commissioner traveled to Charleston to better understand the devastating public health impact of opioid abuse in West Virginia and identify ways the FDA can better address this epidemic.

“I have asked Dr. Califf to come to West Virginia on several occasions to see the impact the opioid epidemic has had on our communities and I’m happy he’s here,” Senator Manchin. “We had a good discussion about the importance of prescriber education to ensure that physicians and other prescribers understand the dangers of opioids and the signs of opioid addiction. This is something I have pushed for in Congress. This year the FDA has made some changes to their opioid policy and I look forward to working with Dr. Califf to continue to come up with common sense solutions to curb the drug abuse epidemic in West Virginia and our country.”

“Fighting the opioid epidemic in West Virginia has been a priority of mine since becoming governor,” Gov. Tomblin said. “I am proud of the progress we have made through efforts like our HELP4WV hotline and legislation that has shut down pill mills and enhanced treatment services across the state. At the same time, we have important work to do to fill treatment gaps in certain regions of our state and address the impact of substance abuse on our workforce. I appreciate the FDA and Senator Manchin for continuing to shine a national spotlight on the good work we’ve done in West Virginia to diminish the plague of substance abuse – and plan ahead for the challenges that remain.”

Below is a list of some of the legislation that Senator Manchin has introduced to hold the FDA accountable and address the opioid abuse epidemic:

· The Changing the Culture of the FDA: would amend the FDA’s mission statement to require the agency to take into account the public health impact of the nation’s opioid epidemic when approving and regulating opioid medications.

· The FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act: would hold the FDA accountable for approving dangerous and highly addictive opioids by requiring that the agency seek the advice of an advisory committee and provide justification to Congress when they approve an opioid against the advice of those experts.

· Practitioner Education: Senator Manchin introduced an amendment to CARA that would have required medical practitioners applying for or renewing their DEA license to undergo training on the treatment of opioid dependent patients, pain management guidelines, and early detection of opioid addiction.

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West Virginia senator Joe Manchin is hoping a new bill will help fight the opioid crisis. This morning, he held a press conference with five other senators outlining their "Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act."

With this act, also known as "Lifeboat," they are trying to develop a permanent way to provide and expand access to substance abuse treatment.

The act would tax opiate prescriptions one cent for every milligram.

That money would go toward funding substance abuse centers and other programs to help treat addiction to opiates, something Manchin says is long overdue.

"We just passed 1.1 billion dollars to fight what we think is going to be an epidemic if we don't get in front of it, which is Zika," said Senator Joe Manchin. "We have had a full-blown epidemic that has killed 200 thousand Americans and we're not doing a thing."

Manchin says the one penny per milligram tax would bring in an estimated one and a half to two billion dollars a year.