A Democratic senator is arguing Appalachia coal workers who lost their jobs because of Obama administration regulations are overdosing on prescription painkillers.
Painkiller abuse has ravaged Appalachia for years, and has gotten worse under President Barack Obama. The White House is expected to clamp down on prescription drug practices, but West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin says Obama’s own policies are, in part, to blame for overdose deaths spiking.
Manchin told The New York Times “that part of the problem was a lack of jobs in Appalachia, and he blamed the administration’s clean air and climate policies for dire effects on the local coal industry.”
Obama’s regulatory agenda for the past six years took aim at coal-fired power plants. Strict rules covering traditional air pollutants like mercury were implemented and then carbon dioxide emissions from coal were targeted.
Already imposed regulations on coal power and mining killed thousands of jobs in Appalachia, especially in Kentucky and West Virginia where painkiller addiction often goes hand in hand with heroin use. Manchin blames joblessness for some of these problems.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide regulations, called the Clean Power Plan (CPP), are expected to push down coal production even further. The CPP could end up killing 300,000 jobs across the country, most of these in Appalachian coal country.
“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them destroy a state and a country without putting up a fight,” said Manchin, who’s also asked the Obama administration to stop approving new opioid drug sales.
A senior White House official told The New York Times that Obama understands how joblessness can drive drug addiction, and plans to address these problems by clamping down on prescription drug handling and also increasing access to health care.
“There’s a broader point that the president fully understands, that there is a link between social conditions and addiction,” the official said.
The number of deaths from painkiller addiction reached 20,000 a year under Obama, a fourfold increase from 1999. West Virginia has been hit hardest by overdose deaths. Other Appalachian states, however, don’t fare much better. Tennessee, for example, saw 1,000 babies born last year addicted to painkillers.