WASHINGTON – Joining a group of national and state figures, an industry leader and top state drug policy official joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to discuss options at the organization’s "Combating the Opioid Crisis" summit earlier this month.
West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts and Dr. Michael Brumage, the director of the state's Office of Drug Control Policy, offered a unique perspective to the crowds at the event.
Both Roberts and Brumage shared the stage with U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Acting Director Anne Schuchat, among other relevant figures.
"The opioid drug crisis affects every person living in our state. In a recent survey of West Virginia Chamber members, nearly 2 in 3 respondents said that they personally know someone who is struggling with addiction,” Roberts said in a press statement. “The cost to West Virginia's economy is estimated to be at $8.8 billion per year, nearly double that of the state's general revenue budget. West Virginia Chamber members are 100 percent committed to finding a solution to this problem so that we can break the cycle of addiction and help those who have struggled return to work."
Collectively, Roberts and Brumage shared their insight into how the nationwide opioid epidemic impacts West Virginia.
“Dr. Brumage and I told the story about West Virginia," Roberts told The West Virginia Record. "The overdose death rate here is the nation's highest and is double the national average. Ohio and New Hampshire are second and third, respectively.
“We are involved because this is a national health crisis. More Americans died last year from overdose deaths (66,000) than in the entirety of the war in Vietnam. Annually we lose more people in our country to opioid overdose than automobile and gun deaths combined. Human decency demands involvement.”
Roberts recollected their time at the event as a “moving and compelling” experience, mainly when they listened to the insights of Adams.
“Dr. Brumage and I were moved deeply by what we saw and learned," he said. "Surgeon General Adams is a moving and compelling speaker, and he agreed to visit us in West Virginia, at our request.
“I am pleased that the resources, power, and ability of business leaders is going to be focused on solutions.”
West Virginia is the deadliest place for opioid abuse, according to the CDC. According to the agency’s data for 2016, the state has the “highest rates of death due to drug overdose” with 52 per 100,000. Opioids, additionally, are the country’s leading driver of deaths caused by a drug overdose, prescription or illicit. Consequently, Ohio trails behind West Virginia (39.1 per 100,000), with New Hampshire (39 per 100,000), Pennsylvania (37.9 per 100,000) and Kentucky (33.5 per 100,000), according to the CDC.
The U.S. Chamber’s "Combating the Opioid Crisis: From Communities to the Capital" event also was a stage for federal lawmakers to announce several legislative initiatives to address the current state of the national opioid crisis.