HARRISBURG – The Center for Rural Pennsylvania today released a report summarizing the findings of four statewide hearings held to examine the growing numbers of heroin and opioid related deaths and arrests across Pennsylvania. Two of the findings highlighted support for legislation currently under consideration in the General Assembly: one bill that would provide immunity to an individual who contacts authorities in the event of a drug overdose and a second that would expand the types of drugs monitored under the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
The report lists additional items for consideration that were addressed by the more than 50 presenters, who included law enforcement officials, health care providers and family members who lost loved ones to heroin and other opioids. These items focused on the areas of education and prevention, law enforcement, and treatment.
“This epidemic affects individuals of every age, gender, race, and background,” said Senator Gene Yaw, Center board chairman. “The increased use of heroin, which often has roots in the abuse of prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin, has catapulted Pennsylvania to seventh in the nation for drug-related overdose deaths in the latest federal statistics.
“Right now we have a public health crisis facing rural Pennsylvania,” Senator Yaw said. “Although our focus was specifically on heroin use in rural Pennsylvania, we know addiction has no municipal, county, or state boundaries. It is, across the board, a statewide and national epidemic impacting residents of every age, race, gender and socioeconomic background. Simply locking people behind bars is not the answer. We, as a state, need to do more.”
Over a two-month period, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors, consisting of members of the House of Representatives, Senate, Governor appointees and academia, joined legislators from across the state for the hearings. The hearing sites were selected to achieve geographic representation and perspectives reflecting the diversity of Pennsylvania.
Legislative action was urged by those who testified. Legislation mentioned included Senate Bill 1164, which would provide immunity to an individual who contacted authorities in the event of a drug overdose. To further strengthen this proposal, an amendment was offered to expand the accessibility of the opioid antidote drug, naloxone also known by the trade name Narcan. With this amendment, naloxone would be available to first responders such as law enforcement or fire department personnel. Health care professionals would also be able to provide a prescription for naloxone to persons at-risk of an overdose, family members, or an individual who may be in the position to assist a person who is suffering an overdose.
The hearings also identified the need to improve the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (Senate Bill 1180/House Bill 1694) to expand the types of drugs monitored under the existing system. Currently, data are collected for Level II controlled substances.
Three primary themes repeatedly mentioned during the hearings included: educating individuals to the dangers of opioid abuse; increasing the accessibility and availability for those seeking treatment; and providing law enforcement with the tools to help eradicate heroin from our communities.
The report is available on the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s website at www.rural.palegislature.us, as well as links to the testimony from the public hearings.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly. It was created in 1987 under Act 16, the Rural Revitalization Act, to promote and sustain the vitality of Pennsylvania’s rural and small communities.
Barry Denk, Director
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania