West Virginians weigh opioid response as they look at GOP Senate candidates

Republican candidates running in the Mountain State’s Senate primary have spent time in court, in Congress and in a correctional facility.

Each has different ideas about how to fix the opioid epidemic, and voters are carefully weighing those ideas, less than three weeks until the election that will decide who gets to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is taking credit for a court victory that inspired a freshly proposed Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)  rule that could cut down on opioid production.

“We’ve been tackling the problem about as aggressively as any office can,” Morrisey said. “Part of the reason why we sued the DEA is that we found out the national drug quota system had utterly failed our citizens, they were rubber-stamping ever increasing amounts of pills flooding into our state and across the country.”

West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country, and those fatalities are driven by opioids, according statistics kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Congressman Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) is the only candidate in the GOP primary field now serving in D.C., and since Congress cuts checks meant for opioid education and treatment, he believes he’s best positioned to continue the fight as senator.

“We’re walking the walk,” Jenkins said. “I have served on the appropriations committee, the $6 billion working with the white house that we’ve just approved is a significant, positive step in the right direction.”

Jenkins also helped establish Lily’s Place in Huntington, a neonatal abstinence syndrome center that was visited by First Lady Melania Trump last year.

President Trump won West Virginia by 42 points in 2016, and an outsider candidate with a business background is now pitching himself as the best to address the state’s opioid crisis – with a broad pitch that sounds a lot like the one candidate Trump brought to coal country.

“The wall is very important,” Don Blankenship said. “Ending the sanctuary cities is important, drug testing public officials – particularly teachers and judges and prosecutors, is important, and basically getting after the doctors and keeping better measurement of who is prescribing the drugs and who is distributing them.”

Blankenship recently served a one-year prison term following a conviction to skirt mine safety regulations, tied to his role as the former chief executive of Massey Energy, when the Upper Big Branch mine disaster occurred and killed 29 people.

The former coal baron is now trying to get his conviction, which he insists is not a liability, overturned.

And with regard to the opioid epidemic, Blankenship believes he’s the only one running whose hands are clean from the crisis.

“I think both of them are greatly responsible for the epidemic,” Blankenship said about his opponents Jenkins and Morrisey, “because they haven’t done enough.”