Fighting opioid epidemic

The opioid epidemic is the challenge of our time.

Far too many West Virginians have succumbed to addiction’s grasp. It has cost people their jobs, their families and ended with prison or death for thousands.

Ending this cycle of devastation requires a holistic solution. We must fight opioid abuse from a supply, demand and educational perspective.

This has been and remains a top priority for my administration. Together, in 2013, we formed the state’s first substance abuse fighting unit by an attorney general.

Record-breaking pharmaceutical settlements followed and the accomplishments continue to mount in this hard-fought battle.

The most far reaching victory in recent months involves our decision to unilaterally sue the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a lawsuit that triggered action by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and sweeping reform to national drug policy.

Our lawsuit pushed DEA to fundamentally change its broken quota system, which confused market demand for dangerous narcotics with the amount of legitimate medical need. Now DEA must reduce its market demand estimate by the amount of illegal diversion, seek additional input and give states a larger voice determining the annual quota.

This new rulemaking will save West Virginia lives.

We also confront oversupply at the local level, as witnessed by our $550,000 settlement with a Boone County pharmacy. Our lawsuit alleged that pharmacy provided nearly 10 million doses of prescription painkillers in 11 years, all for a county with fewer than 25,000 residents.

Our office also spearheaded legislation to attack other root causes of the problem, including changes that will advance non-opioid alternatives to these addictive products.

Our provision in Senate Bill 273 allows medical providers to follow their conscience and refuse to prescribe or dispense highly-addictive opioid painkillers without threat of retaliation.

We also continue participation in the DEA’s biannual Drug Take-Back Day. Our partnership with Capitol Police led to the collection and disposal of more than 50 pounds of unused and unwanted pills over just two days in April.

The office also makes continued progress in educating today’s youth to raise awareness and prevent future demand.

Our partnership with higher education expanded in March to include a fourth university — Concord University’s Department of Health, Physical Education and Athletic Training.

By teaming with Concord, West Virginia University’s Schools of Nursing and Pharmacy, Marshall University’s School of Nursing and Shepherd University’s Department of Nursing Education, our partnership has reached more than 8,150 middle school students.

They learn the serious risks of opioid-based medications, as well as the dangers of heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil.

We also just completed our second Kids Kick Opioids public service announcement contest, an effort to spur the creativity of elementary and middle school students, while also raising awareness of opioid abuse. This year’s top prize went to a Mercer County student whose design illustrated how opioid abuse can impact every aspect of a person’s life.

Recent months also brought additional Combating Addiction with Grace conferences in Logan and Hurricane. The statewide initiative equips faith leaders with the tools to combat addiction in their communities.

Limiting supply, reducing demand and educating people of all ages on the dangers of opioid use will lead our state to a future with less crime, less addiction and, most importantly, fewer grieving families.

In keeping up the fight against opioid abuse we can prevent more senseless death and help West Virginia reach her full potential.

Patrick Morrisey is the attorney general of West Virginia.


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