State senators look forward
It was a tale of two senators at Shepherd University’s research forum held Monday, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa., addressing the country’s opioid crisis, while Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va, stressed the importance for West Virginia to tap into the next cutting edge technological trends.
Manchin and Capito touched on their respective state issues while serving as keynote speakers at “West Virginia Research and Innovation: A Catalyst for Better Health and Economic Growth,” a research forum held at the Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education Auditorium at Shepherd University on Monday.
“We have a tremendous challenge right now,” said Manchin, referring to the country’s opioid crisis. “We have a West Virginia problem, and a United States problem. We’ve got to work on that.”
Exacerbating the opioid crisis, said Manchin, is the ease with which physicians prescribe pills to patients. Manchin told the forum audience the story behind a piece of legislation entitled “Jessie’s Law” where a former addict – despite being identified as such – is given an opioids for pain.
“The doctor didn’t see any of this,” Manchin said. “He said ‘she’s a healthy young girl.'”
The doctor prescribed Jessie Grubb 50 oxycodone pills. She fatally overdosed the next day.
Adding to the opioid crisis, said Manchin, are parts of the federal government not working in tandem with one another, referring to a Washington Post newspaper article and CBS News “60 Minutes” segment on Sunday that reported the Drug Enforcement Agency’s drug enforcement power has been handcuffed by legislation passed in the House of Representatives this year.
“They changed the rules,” Manchin said. “How could that happen, and none of us see it?
We keep trying to move the ball forward, but we had nobody from the DEA, or nobody from the Justice Department coming to us and saying ‘this is a bad piece of policy, bad piece of legislation, for you all to reduce how you’re going to prove basically someone is in violation, or you are holding someone at a higher standard’ – so they let their guard down.”
Manchin also called attention to the state’s current 49.5 percent employment rate, which he said is the result of resident addictions, convictions and lack of the needed skills.
“We have thousands and thousands of jobs in West Virginia going unfulfilled,” Manchin said. “We’ve had 23 job fairs in West Virginia, and every job fair we walk away – we had over 100 employers there looking to hire – but everybody walks away without finding the people that they need. There are three things that keep you out of the workforce: addiction, conviction, or lack of skills – or a combination of the three. Unfortunately, we’ve got hit with the grand slam – we’ve got all of them.”
According to Capito, West Virginia also faces an economic challenge: to swap its old economic drivers for new ones.
“We are being asked to transition in our state to a different kind of economy,” Capito said.
Tapping into that transition will require business operators and state representatives to look at the state’s resources – both natural and human – differently.
“It’s a different way of looking, a different way of preparing your workforce. It’s a different way of figuring how are we going to keep our young people in the state,” Capito said.
Part of the state’s economic transition will be to bolster STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) education, Capito said.
“In Congress, we’re trying to extend STEM education for women and for minorities,” Capito said. “Women and minorities are very underrepresented in th STEM field.”
Capito said state universities and small businesses should be tapping into funds provided through the Foundation of Biomedical Research and Innovation. The foundation provides federal grants – up to $1.5 million – to small businesses developing an innovative idea in a specific field that needs funding.
“FBRI covers health care, defense and STEM fields,” Capito said. “It’s a great way for startups to secure funding, see how it’s going to work and how you are going to commercialize this.”
According to Capito, West Virginia’s universities should also be called on to provide research on a wide range of fields, including opioid addiction.
“Why shouldn’t our universities be at the leading edge in providing that expertise in research and technology to follow that?” Capito said. “Because, we’re there – we’re living it.”