This is one of a series of columns written by candidates in contested races in the West Virginia general election on Nov. 6. In this case, the candidate is incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat seeking re-election who co-authored this column with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.
West Virginia is ground zero for the opioid crisis, yet people often drive hundreds of miles to pill mills in other states, including Florida, which was recently the opioid capital of the world. At its height, pill mills in Florida were selling millions of pills a month. Doctors, pharmacies, distributors, drug companies, drug dealers - everyone - was getting rich. But most of the pills weren't only being bought by Floridians.
College kids, addicts and drug dealers took the "Oxy Express," a route between Huntington, West Virginia, and Florida, to buy opioids from pill mills and bring them back to West Virginia, and consequently the Northeast, to sell. The Oxy Express made drug dealers rich, thousands of West Virginians and Floridians addicted, and subsequently led to the death of many. But no one would be more impacted than our home states. Both West Virginia and Florida suffer high rates of opioid overdose deaths each year. West Virginia has the highest rate per capita of overdose deaths in the nation, and over 4,700 people in Florida lost their lives to a drug overdose in 2016 alone.
Both of our states took steps to crack down on pill mills, drug trafficking and drug dealing, but unfortunately, in the beginning, this wasn't enough and those who were addicted to opioid pills quickly turned to heroin coming from Mexico. As a Democrat and Republican, we both fought for more funding for border security and tools to combat the drug cartels that keep pouring heroin over our southern border.
But we did not prepare for fentanyl. Just two milligrams of fentanyl will kill most people and is 50 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl's toxicity has been a driving factor in the increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years. In fact, according to a study reported by the CDC that looked at overdose deaths in 10 states, the number of overdose deaths in those states involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil nearly doubled between the last half of 2016 and the first half of 2017.
What's worse is that anyone can order fentanyl online from China. As is often the case, we were slow to close loopholes that allowed fentanyl to come into the country without detection through the U.S. Postal Service. After significant bipartisan support, that is finally changing with the STOP Act that was included in the comprehensive SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. The STOP Act will give law enforcement the electronic data needed to help stop shipments of fentanyl and other deadly drugs from entering the country, using similar technology already utilized by private carriers.
Every day in the Senate, we are working to find ways to end this crisis. Recently, the Senate passed a package to support and enhance the ongoing efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that is ravishing our country - particularly in West Virginia and Florida. Our nation still has a tough road to recovery, but this bipartisan legislation will provide necessary tools and resources to help those currently struggling with addiction and prevent others from becoming addicted.
Both West Virginia and Florida have a unique relationship to the opioid crisis. But that also means we have experience in fighting it. We personally know people who have been impacted by this emergency. We know the first responders, nurses and faith leaders who are on the front lines every day trying to help people who are addicted. It's in that faith that we are committed to working together in a bipartisan way to do everything possible to help our states stop and reverse the opioid crisis.
Joe Manchin , a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the United States Senate. Marco Rubio, a Republican, represents Florida in the Senate.