Hillary Clinton vows to tackle issue of opioid addiction, abuse

During a panel discussion at the University of Charleston with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Carter talks about her battle with addiction. (WCHS/WVAH)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) - Sitting with a panel that included a young woman who said she started doing drugs when she was 12 years old, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton vowed in Charleston that as president she would tackle the issue of opioid addiction and abuse.

"You have the highest per capita (opioid) overdose rate in the country," Clinton told a panel and an audience Tuesday at the University of Charleston. "We can't keep losing people like this."

Among the panelists was a young woman who identified herself as Chelsea Carter, who was lauded by fellow panelist Circuit Judge William Thompson, whose 25th Judicial Circuit encompasses Boone and Lincoln counties. He made an emotional introduction of Carter, who was a graduate of his drug court and will soon receive a master's degree in social work from Concord University.

"I started doing drugs when I was 12 years old," Carter said. "Never did I believe that doing drugs at 12 years old would lead to two felony convictions."

Carter told a powerful story about her battle with addiction. She said she had two working parents -- her father was the mayor of Madison, and her mother was a dental hygienist. Carter said she started doing drugs with a friend's family. At 15, she was doing "anything she could get her hands on." By 19, she said she was turning to OxyContin and started stealing when she and her drug dealer broke up. She said she was doing eight to 10 OxyContin a day at $100 a pill.

Even though she was convicted on two felonies, she continued to use drugs despite facing two to 20 years in prison.

"Addiction had full control of my heart and soul," Carter said.

Carter said she prayed to God for help when she was thrown in jail. The drug court eventually provided her the right path. Carter said she has not used a drug since Sept. 29, 2008, but said she has buried a lot of friends who battled addiction.

Judge Thompson sang the praises of the drug court. It's a struggle, however, to get a drug court in all 55 counties in West Virginia. The program is in 28 or 29 counties now. To put someone through drug court, it costs $3,000 to $4,000 per year.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who introduced Clinton at the University of Charleston, said something has to be done about opioid and illicit drug addiction and abuse. He said the Mountain State had 630 prescription overdoses last year -- the highest per capita rate in the nation.

Manchin wants to propose a $0.01-per-milligram tax to drug manufacturers. It would equal more than $1 billion to go toward treatment centers. He said he believes Clinton has the determination and commitment to fight the problem of drug addiction and abuse.

For her part, Clinton said she has laid out her plans for treatment and rehabilitation programs and she would work with partners to help tackle the problem. She said the issue is personal; she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have five family friends who have lost children to opioid overdoses.

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