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Interview with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin: Opioid Crisis

FILE - In this May 18, 2017 file photo, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. responds to questions during a television news interview on Capitol Hill in Washington. Manchin is demanding that the White House withdraw the nomination of Rep. Thomas Marino, R-Pa., to be the nation's drug czar. Manchin says Marino played a key role in passing a bill weakening the Drug Enforcement Administration's authority to stop companies from distributing opioids. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Boris Epshteyn formerly served as a Senior Advisor to the Trump Campaign and served in the White House as Special Assistant to The President and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations.

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) -

BORIS EPSHTEYN: On opioids - sadly West Virginia is the state hit the hardest by this opioid crisis, this opioid epidemic. Eight hundred and eighty overdose deaths last year, a record. What do you think the federal government can still do above what’s been done to combat the crisis?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN: We’re on the front lines. If you’re in a war, and we’ve all declared this a war because we’ve never had an epidemic that has destroyed more lives and taken more lives since WWII. We’ve never had this happen in our country. So we’re on the front line. If you have a person, if you have a battalion, a regiment fighting on the front lines you’ve got to make sure they have all the tools they can to keep people, the enemy from breaking through. West Virginia is on the front line but we’re getting the resources, now I’m trying to explain. I think they are understanding it now. We are getting the resources that pass the CURE Act. And that was supposed to have some money going to help us to, and also with the Affordable Care Act, were supposed to treat people with addictions that we weren’t able to treat before. So with that being said, I said, “you’re giving us the same ration of bullets and guns to fight on the front line as you are giving on the back lines that aren’t out there fighting the war and trying to keep the enemy from breaking through.” Guess what? We’ve run out of our bullets. We’ve run out of our equipment and out of our guns in order to defend. We need resources on where the greatest percentage of epidemic is not based on where the population. If you look at population we are 1,800,000+ people. Well every other state that has the problem is 10 million, 12 million, 15 million. If they start dispersing funds based on population we’re left with the smallest amount for the greatest impact.

BORIS: Right.

MANCHIN: That’s what we’re saying and I think they’re understanding that and we will get through on that. If they want to fight it and you want to see if you can stop it there’s not a better place to see if you can have appreciable results and gains than West Virginia and we need more treatment centers. We need the doctors to have education on how they are dispensing it. We need to make sure the FDA is not putting more products on the market. We need to make sure DEA is not putting quotas out that is inundating our state. One little town Kermit, West Virginia, had 9 million pills in two years. There is only 392 people living in that town. Now you tell me something’s not wrong.

BORIS: You mentioned the Affordable Care Act. One of the versions of a Senate repeal and replace bills contained $45 or $40 billion of funding to combat the opioid crisis. The bill didn’t get to a vote. You signaled that you were against that bill. How vital is it to you is funding the opioid epidemic for any bill that addresses health care reform?

MANCHIN: Funding is, perpetual funding is what we need. So I have said this, I have introduced a piece of legislation called the Lifeboat Act because I truly believe that the pharmaceuticals with all the good they do, good pharmaceutical companies, they’re putting a product out that has basically been motivated and distributed on the business plan. There’s too many products. You can’t have a country the size of the United States with 5 percent of the world’s population using 80 percent of all the opioids produced in the world. Something’s wrong but it’s very lucrative and profitable. So I said in the Lifeboat Act, we are going to put one penny, one penny fee, not a tax, because a tax can be passed on to the consumer. This is a fee to manufacturing. You want to produce the product? There is going to be a 1 percent manufacturing fee for every gram of opiate you produce. That’ll produce between $1.5 to $2 billion that goes directly in treatment for people addicted to try and get them cleaned up and back in the workforce. Because we don’t have the treatment centers. I have a judge, I have a cousin of mine who is a judge. A first cousin, like a brother of mine. He said, “Joe, I have to sentence these people every day for the role they do. I’ve never been denied a jail cell but if someone comes and recommends this person did not commit a violent crime. This person did not commit a sexual crime. This person basically stole to support a habit. Addiction is an illness. Illness needs treatment. If illness needs treatment, then I need treatment centers. We recommend putting this person in a mandatory treatment center to see if we can cure them there because we know jail won’t do it. Guess what Joe? No treatment centers so I had to put them in jail.”

BORIS: So what is the status of the Lifeboat Act?

MANCHIN: I can’t get a Republican to sign on to it. They look at it as a new tax. I said, “please look at this bill. It is a treatment center bill. It’s not a tax, it’s a fee.” Now if you are against manufacturing who is producing opiates, who is causing the greatest epidemic we’ve ever seen in the United States of America, then you are protecting the pharmaceutical business plan on that one product. Not on the other good things they do, just that one product. I need that.” And so they are looking at it now differently and hopefully it will break through. It’s, you know, I’m in hand to hand combat in West Virginia and maybe I would see it differently but I’ve said, you know we’ve never hesitated to put a true tax on which is passed on to the consumer for cigarettes. We never hesitated to put a true tax on which is passed on to the consumer for alcohol. This is a fee passed on to manufacturers, not passed on to consumers. And I got to get them to understand that.

BORIS: The difference is that cigarettes and alcohol are viewed as recreational and this for medicine.

MANCHIN: Supposed to be.

BORIS: Supposed to be, but sadly not right now.

MANCHIN: The way it is distributed. It has been distributed as a feel-good recreational drug if you will.

BORIS: Do you think funding for fighting the opioid epidemic crisis should be tied to a health care reform bill?

MANCHIN: Oh it’s part of it.

BORIS: It has to be, right?

MANCHIN: It has to be.

BORIS: Okay.

MANCHIN: It’s consuming everything we do. Our hospital, our rural clinics. They’re all inundated and if you want to fight this and you have to fight this at the front lines. It’s going to be recognizing that opioids and drugs are causing most of our healthcare problems in rural America today.

BORIS: So just last month the president did declare the opioid epidemic a national health emergency. Have you seen that have effect in local communities in your home state?

MANCHIN: Well that’s where I brought to light when he did that because not registering it as a national emergency, by national health emergency the funding doesn’t flow the same as it would in national. But I am working with the White House trying to make sure they do understand we are the front line. When you start distributing basically and say we’re going to fight this in a health, as an overall health concern that we have in fighting this war that the money flows where your greatest epidemics are and greatest effect per capita not just by population which I explained earlier. I think they are going to help me on that. I really hope so.

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