The Opioid Epidemic: We’re Making A Difference

An op-ed by W.Va. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

Addiction impacts every West Virginian. 
Whether it’s a child who lost a parent to an overdose or a friend who found himself addicted to pills after a routine surgery, the opioid epidemic has infiltrated every community and every household in our state.

My office identified the issue early on and created the first ever substance abuse fighting task force by an Attorney General in West Virginia. That initiative changed the status quo and continues to make a difference.
Just months ago, my office reached the largest pharmaceutical settlement in state history, which forced 12 drug wholesalers to pay more than $47 million to resolve allegations related to the suspiciously large amount of prescription painkillers shipped to West Virginia.
We continue to investigate pharmacies, manufacturers and prescribers with the same vigor. Every stakeholder must comply with the law. My office will not stop until this is the reality.
While the fight is far from over, we are already seeing downward trends in the amount of pills being dispensed in West Virginia. Statewide statistics show a 30.7 percent drop in the number of hydrocodone and oxycodone doses shipped to West Virginia – down from more than 139 million doses in 2011 to 96.3 million in 2016.
That decline will receive an even greater boost once additional initiatives by my office, announced within the past year, take hold and change the drug culture in West Virginia.
For instance, there is tremendous potential in the best practices toolkit that my office finalized in August 2016. It is changing the way prescribers authorize and pharmacists dispense prescription painkillers.
The initiative received broad support from more than 25 national and state stakeholders. It aims to cut prescription opioid use by at least 25 percent through reduced use of opioids as a first-line therapy option, while preserving legitimate patient access to necessary treatment with strict monitoring.
This way of thinking should be the standard of care in West Virginia, but patients also play a role – as do parents when the patient is a child or teenager. They must feel empowered to ask questions to their providers and know alternatives exist to highly addictive opioids.
We’ve raised such awareness with public service announcements and a game-of-the-week initiative, during which our staff interacted with residents at nearly 60 football games across West Virginia.
Our office also has a unique partnership with Acting U.S. Attorney Betsy Steinfeld Jividen. It intensifies the fight against drug trafficking with two attorneys from my office serving as special assistant U.S. attorneys. Their work bolsters drug prosecutions in northern West Virginia, an effort already credited with eight convictions.
These initiatives will have an immediate impact on the opioid epidemic, but we cannot rest.
I want to double down on efforts to educate children and teens about the long-term impact of prescription pill use, identify and correct incentives for overprescribing practices, closely monitor the amount of prescription painkillers flowing into West Virginia and equip state boards with the backing they need to hold bad actors accountable.
For years, some government leaders failed to recognize that a drug epidemic existed in the Mountain State.
Their inaction allowed addiction to flourish and control communities, ultimately claiming thousands of lives.
Those days are over. My office is committed to changing the trend – and we only have limited jurisdiction over the problem.
We will continue to fight, lead, and demand a better future so West Virginia can reach her full potential.
Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.

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