CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wants a "full fledged" investigation into allegations a Food and Drug Administration panel charged with crafting policies regulating prescription painkillers accepted thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical companies.
Manchin hopes the charge could lead to a reclassification for hydrocodone, a power prescription painkiller that's rampantly abused in West Virginia.
"To me, it looks like they were buying access to change policy or direct policy not to the benefit of the consumer," Manchin said Wednesday morning during a conference call.
The FDA panel accepted as much as $25,000 from large pharmaceutical companies so the companies could attend and chime in at closed-door meetings, according to The Washington Post. The Post broke the story earlier this week after obtaining emails through a Freedom of Information Act.
The panel examined regulations and testing of prescription painkillers, helping shape the FDA's policy for the medication.
This week a national report indicated West Virginia has the highest fatal overdose rate in the nation. Most of those overdoses are attributed to prescription pills.
Hydrocodone is an active ingredient in power painkillers like Lortab and Vicodin. Another recently released report from the Center for Investigative Reporting shows the veterans hospitals in Beckley and Huntington have some of the highest prescription rates in the country. Between 2001 and 2012 both prescribed far more medication with hydrocodone than the three other prescription painkillers examined for the study.
Manchin said he's repeatedly pushed for the FDA to reclassify hydrocodone from a Schedule III drug to a Schedule II drug. Schedule II drugs have stricter limits for the amount that can be prescribed at one time, and require more input from a doctor.
"We wanted to make sure people are getting the medications they need and the amount they need, but by God the way they're (going about it) is wrong," Manchin said.
"It won't cure our drug problem, but it sure does give us a better handle."