WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration’s approach to painkillers and the nation’s growing opioid epidemic is “horrifying,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) charged Wednesday, humanizing that horror by reading a letter from an addict’s anguished daughter on the Senate floor.
Manchin, who is blocking President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the FDA, accused the agency of putting business interests ahead of human beings, saying its regulators have shown their true intentions by approving opioid drugs for 11-year-olds and opposing prescription guidelines drafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Manchin argued that FDA nominee Robert Califf is too close to the drug industry to change the agency's focus on business.
“I believe that the FDA must start taking prescription drug abuse seriously, and this will not happen without a cultural change at the agency,” Manchin said.
He pointed to skyrocketing death rates from opioid painkiller abuse, in part blaming the FDA's policies for approving medications and the advertising campaigns that go along with drugs. Opioid-related deaths have jumped from 4,400 in 2000 to nearly 18,893 in 2014, according to the CDC.
“These decisions by the FDA are horrifying examples of the disconnect between the FDA's actions and the realities of this deadly epidemic,” Manchin said.
To bring home the human side of the issue, Manchin said he would start regularly taking to the floor to read tales of drug-related devastation in his home state.
He started with a letter from a woman named Haley from Princeton, West Virginia. Haley, who now has her own daughter, described how drugs took her childhood and her mother from her.
“I could give endless anecdotes and examples of how drug addiction ruined my life, but I don't think I can ever adequately describe what prescription drugs have done,” Haley wrote. “The only thing worse than not having a mother at all is having a mother who chooses drugs over you. Something needs to be done.”
The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, the agency has defended Califf against allegations that is he is too pro-business, pointing out that he has actually led studies aimed at cutting opioid abuse.
Watch Manchin read the full letter above.