Mr. BOUCHER. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
As the gentleman from California pointed out in his recent comments, there was a compelling article on the front page of The Washington Post on Sunday that details the level of drug dependency and drug addiction that takes place among coal miners who have, because of their work, become injured, received medications, and then that has led to drug dependency, oftentimes to drug addiction, and it is a major and a growing problem. And in the Central Appalachians, where much of our Nation's coal is
mined, that problem is one of the largest affecting our communities.
Among the major victims of the epidemic we are experiencing are, in fact, coal miners. But the problems in our communities are not limited just to coal miners. As the article published on Sunday indicated, the toll that this sometimes unseen epidemic is taking is worse now than ever before, and it is growing year by year. In 2006, a record 248 people died from drug overdoses in the region that I have the privilege of representing. In that year, accidental pain pill overdoses killed more people
in one of the coal mining counties in my congressional district that has a population of 44,000 than died from drug overdoses in Virginia's largest county, Fairfax County, that has a population of 1.1 million. So obviously this problem is disproportionately affecting the coal-producing counties not only in Virginia, but it is happening throughout the Central Appalachian region where coal is mined.
The devastation to families and communities in the district that I represent is graphic, and that devastation was so well portrayed in the article that the gentleman from California referenced that was published in The Washington Post on Sunday. And for those who have not read that article, let me commend it because it points out the severity that this problem is imposing on our rural areas. Methadone has now replaced OxyContin as the most abused and the deadliest drug, but the epidemic spans
a wide range of pain medications.
So the amendment that I'm putting forward really is the action that Mr. McKeon called for just a moment ago in his comments. It is an important step in addressing the mental health needs of the miners who suffer from work-related drug dependency. They are not the sole victims of the epidemic, but they are disproportionately affected by it.
The amendment authorizes the expenditure of $10 million in grant awards in regions of the Nation most affected by prescription drug abuse among coal miners in order to provide drug counseling and drug rehabilitation services to them. And that article pointed out the severe lack of those very services that exist in the coal-producing regions of Virginia, and the authorities who are responsible for delivering those kinds of services talked about the inadequacy of resources with which they are currently
having to contend. And we take with this amendment one small step in making sure that those resources are enhanced so they can do their jobs better.
I urge adoption of the amendment as one important step in addressing an urgent need that we have in the coal mining communities of the Eastern United States.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time. [Page: H65]
Mr. McKEON. Mr. Chairman, I really want to thank Congressman Boucher for his effort to address this problem of drug use among miners. I think it's very, very important. I would even go so far as to say if this bill doesn't show much progress, if you brought this up as a separate bill, I'd be happy to work with you on it.
This amendment takes an important first step by acknowledging the problem and establishing opportunities for treatment. This amendment is a positive first step, but it does not go far enough.
To complement the Boucher amendment, Republicans are proposing a strong framework for mandatory drug testing. We want to ensure that miners are tested and those who are under the influence are prevented from entering the mines and putting their own lives and the lives of their coworkers at risk.
Drug abuse among miners is a serious problem, and according to recent media accounts, it is also a widespread problem. Already States are taking the lead on stringent testing initiatives to protect miners from the hazards that come from combining substance abuse and the dangerous work environment. The Federal Government needs to catch up on what is being done in the States.
I urge my colleagues to support the Republican proposal to implement drug testing. At this time I also urge passage of the Boucher amendment as an acknowledgment of the problem and an important first step toward resolving it.
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in very strong support of his amendment. I think it's well thought out. It recognizes the problems that were described in the article and experienced among his constituents to provide the kinds of resources for what clearly, from the narrative in the story, is a very difficult problem, encountering numerous substances, of people who are caught in very difficult situations, many of whom are struggling to stay employed. And I think the kinds of services that the gentleman provides
in his amendment are absolutely necessary, and I rise in strong support of the amendment.
Mr. McKEON. Mr. Chairman, I likewise support the amendment, and I thank the gentleman for presenting it.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. BOUCHER. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.
Mr. Chairman, I want to say thank you to the gentleman from California for his kind remarks and for the strong support he has stated for this measure, and I want to thank the gentleman from California (Mr. George Miller) and his outstanding staff for their leadership on the overall issue and also their strong support of this undertaking.
It is critically important that we empower the individuals who are delivering services to miners who are affected by drug abuse, who are affected by drug addiction, so that they can become productive once again, remain in the mines working, and that their families can benefit from their productive existence. This amendment takes that important step, and I urge adoption of it.