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Rahall Tells Forum Fighting Prescription Drug Abuse Must Be 24/7
Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 00:02 Special to HNN provided from Rep. Nick Rahall Statement
Rahall’s remarks follow: Remarks by U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) National Rx Drug Abuse Summit General Session Orlando, Florida Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Good morning and thank you Karen, for the wonderful introduction. I am pleased and honored to join with my colleagues – especially my good friend, Hal Rogers – and the many distinguished guests, panelists and experts, who have come here in singular purpose to address our nation’s struggle with the scourge of prescription drug abuse.
When Chairman Rogers first invited me to participate in this national conversation, I readily agreed. Hal and I share more than the common border of our Congressional Districts. Eastern Kentuckians and Southern West Virginians share most of the same values and virtues you are going to find in small town rural America – those of family, friends and faith.
Believe it or not, that circa 1950’s video clip included in today’s opening from the movie, October Sky, gave you a pretty realistic taste of our close knit communities in West Virginia. The clip captured the real life heartfelt moment of victory and validation a young man from deep within the coalfields of my district experienced. And, any of you who have seen the movie or read any of Homer Hickam’s books, know his well placed loyalty to his home state.
Life in Coalwood, West Virginia, gave Homer a solid beginning. He had a caring mother and a respected father who earned a steady wage. He had loyal friends – his fellow rocketry pioneers – and lived in a community where neighbor cared about neighbor. He had a very special teacher, the kind whose influence stays with a student for the rest of his life. And, in those West Virginia hills, he and his friends were instilled with basic values like hard work, persistence, loyalty, respect, humility, and honesty.
In so many ways, the story of October Sky and the life of Homer Hickam are the story of West Virginia.
Life in a coal mining community provided Homer with the kind of firm upbringing – in the grit of hardship, to borrow a phrase – that encouraged and enabled him, and all the Rocket Boys, to make their dreams reality.
October Sky’s roots are truly Appalachian. While the movie is set and based in West Virginia, it was largely filmed in Tennessee in the district of Hal’s and my colleague, Jimmy Duncan.
All the jokes you may have heard to the contrary, Hal truly kept the message of the movie in our Appalachian family when he launched the mission of UNITE to combat the devastating prescription drug epidemic that Appalachia and our nation is now facing. October Sky, just like UNITE, has been a great gift to all of us who believe in a better tomorrow.
When I held the first prescription drug summit in my district, Karen Kelly of UNITE was the rock star of the morning. As she spoke, all around the room, heads were nodding in agreement with her assessment of our struggles and the need to employ proven solutions. Regaling us with her experience of connecting the dots, rallying the troops and sources of support, cooperation, and coordination of resources were like welcome manna from Heaven.
The message is beginning to resound throughout Appalachia. A recent editorial in my hometown newspaper, the Beckley Register-Herald – in my opinion – hit the nail squarely on its head. It was titled, “Drugs – It’s 24-7.” It argued persuasively, that the scourge we face never sleeps, and it destroys, devastates and decimates every hour of every day.
It also made the case that while topics like the economy, health care, world politics, sports and entertainment may dominate the headlines, NONE of these – individually or as a whole – have the impact on our society the way drug abuse does. And, that in reality, drug abuse negatively affects each of these major elements of everyday life for Americans.
And, just this morning my hometown newspaper ran a story regarding the efforts of people confronting the drug problem for several years in southern West Virginia, particularly Wyoming County – Debra Curry-Davis, Kandy Clay, and Diane Sumpter of One Voice – who are here at the Summit along with Greg Puckett of Community Connections in Mercer County, Captain Tim Bradley of the West Virginia State Police, and Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook.
The numbers we have been hearing from some of the experts here bear repeating. According to one study, this epidemic is costing our Nation over $70 billion annually — over $40 billion in lost productivity alone.
When we say drug abuse impacts a ready workforce, we really are concluding whole regional economies are being affected, and that means completely innocent families are being hurt.
Drug abuse is over running health care costs with 1 in every 4 dollars for Medicare inpatient care involving substance abuse, millions of dollars for national and international interdiction, and I haven’t even counted the cost to our jails and prisons systems.
This epidemic has no economic barriers. It claims the lives of the rich and famous and many we will never know. It strikes 90 year old grandmothers with the same lethal blow as it does their 9 year old grandkids. I know, firsthand, the devastating toll that drug abuse can impose on a family. The resources, patience, and persistence, and the tests of loyalty and love required can be immense.
And, it’s heart breaking. The editorial went on to say that all of us and each of us must enlist in the cause if there is any hope to ending the epidemic.
A united effort of national, regional, and multi-county resources is critical to our ultimate victory for both our citizens and communities against this epidemic
With almost every sector of our economy being impacted, I believe we can build a coalition of strong national partners – public and private, non-profit and for-profit entities – which can help bring important resources to the table.
We must promote physician, pharmacist and consumer education, as well as authorize federal funding to help states create and maintain prescription drug monitoring programs that all states can access. And, we have to blanket the country with one of our most cost-effective measures: prevention.
Prevention is perhaps the most economical, effective, physical and mental health saving measure we have on our side. With estimates suggesting we could save $10 for every $1 spent on prevention, surely a budget surplus could not be far behind.
With model efforts like Operation UNITE replicated throughout the country, a sizable increase in prevention measures would be a wise investment – especially for our young – and a prudent use of available monies for neighborhood and local communities.
Prescription drug abuse is a public health crisis. Many of you in this audience are the foot soldiers on the front lines combating the rampant assaults prescription drug abuse is waging against the very foundations of our society. You are fighting this epidemic every day, which affects far too many in our nation.
We must remain diligent in our focus and firm in our battle strategy to dismantle drug trafficking and save our citizens and communities from the blight of this epidemic. It’s a fight that requires the sustained support and commitment of all parties at all levels to attack this problem.
We must implement reforms and develop and sustain resources like real-time prescription drug monitoring and interstate information sharing, great awareness and education for children and adults, education for health professionals, and greater access to treatment and recovery programs.
Finally, simply engaging our neighbors, empowering them with information and letting them know they are not alone can profoundly improve neighborhood conditions. Working in partnership with law enforcement, not as vigilantes or self appointed marshals, community neighborhoods can take back their homes and look after their neighbors.
In Huntington, WV, the Weed and Seed program saw a 4 by 8 block area of Fairfield that once accounted for 60% percent of Huntington’s drug crimes now is responsible for only 10% of those offenses. We must continue to spread the word.
Former First Lady Betty Ford spoke of addiction as being at the heart of the world’s most difficult problems – crime, health care, highway safety, family breakdown. But she also said that, of all the many causes of modern dilemmas, the one that is most susceptible to solution is addiction. “Although cunning, baffling, and powerful,” said Betty Ford, addiction has “within it the seeds of self-knowledge and a better life for individuals, families, and communities.”
So let us continue our quest – here and today – for a future as bright as our dreams. This Summit has assembled community and political leaders along with Federal officials to see how we can coordinate our tools, talents, and time for the benefit of the people of the United States. We also need the continued interest and support of citizens, businesses, volunteers, and community leaders.
And we need to involve our young people. Let me say directly to them: your future is limited only by your own actions. Be willing to dream big and to fight every day to make your dreams reality. To do that, you need drive, commitment, energy, enthusiasm, and strength – all things that drug abuse takes away from you.
We have an important agenda this morning, but of all the accomplishments we may leave with here today, perhaps better understanding and commitment to succeed are among the most important.
Together, we will make a difference. As my hometown newspaper’s editorial concluded, “The effort to eradicate has to be grassroots and 24 / 7. You can, we can, make a difference.”