State hearing on heroin, opioid epidemic slated at Pitt-Bradford

Danni’s Ripple Effect

By SANDY RHODES Special to The Era | 0 comments

Heroin and opioid use is on the rise in rural Pennsylvania and a hearing set for Friday may provide some answers.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania will hold a hearing — Confronting the Heroin/Opioid Epidemic in Pennsylvania — from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Bromeley Family Theater in Blaisdell Hall at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

“How did heroin find its way to Bradford, Pa.,” asked Barry Denk, director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

That is a question many are asking as more and more overdoses and deaths are reported in McKean County and the surrounding area.

One local official took note and requested a hearing be held in Bradford.

“As a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, I’ve participated in some of the public hearings on the heroin problem held in other parts of the state,” said Dr. Livingston Alexander, president of the Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Titusville. “Upon hearing the various testimonies of those invited to speak at the hearings, it became clear that our region is experiencing the same problems that other regions in the state are experiencing.

“The heroin problem is pervasive and poses a threat to every community in the state. For this reason, I did invite (Denk) and Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport), chairman of the board, to hold a public hearing in Bradford. The purpose is to raise awareness about the problem in our community and to increase discourse on possible solutions to the problem. I feel certain that the problem will only get worse if we don’t take concrete steps to address it. The major focus of the public hearing will be on treatment is a step in the right direction.”

Pennsylvania leads the nation in drug overdose deaths among young adult men, according to a 2015 report released by the Trust for America’s Health. States across the nation are reporting an increase in heroin use as addicts are shifting from more costly prescription opioids to cheaper alternatives. More recent reports indicate that approximately 80 percent of heroin addicts traced their addiction back to prescription opioids. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vital Signs report also confirmed that health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every adult in the U.S. to have a bottle of prescription painkillers. Further, in 2011, the National Institutes on Drug Abuse estimated that 4.2 million Americans age 12 or older had used heroin at least once in their lives.

“It is a multi-faceted problem; there is no easy solution,” Denk said. “There are so many aspects to this crisis. It’s tragic.”

The hearing promises to explore the “breadth and depth of the issues.”

The purpose of the hearings is threefold — to educate policymakers, inform the public and enhance current policies in the state related to heroin and opioid addiction treatment.

Denk described the set-up at the hearing. The board and legislators will be on the stage and those testifying — people who work in law enforcement and addiction agencies — will do so from a table in front of the stage. Since the testimony will be written and distributed beforehand, Denk recommended that the people testifying not read from their testimony, but summarize.

“Sen. Yaw reads all the testimony in advance,” Denk said, adding the hearings have been enlightening for both the board and community members.

”We are always learning something new. It is like peeling layers from an onion to get to all the issues.”

Even the public, who is invited to attend, glean something new at the hearings.

“Some (community members) didn’t know it existed,” Denk said of the heroin problem. “And during each hearing, something else comes to light.”

The Center has held hearings from across the state, but this hearing is being held in the most remote part.

“Rural folk are innovative,” he said. “We want to know what is working up there.”

One thing that sets Bradford apart from most communities is its proximity to New York state.

Denk added the health care system everywhere is facing one of the biggest challenges of this epidemic. Some issues that have come up include making opioids available for those in pain and legitimately need help, such as senior citizens, and continuing treatment of those who are given a dose of Narcan, are transported to a hospital and then refuse further treatment.

One thing is clear though — the heroin epidemic spans across all ages, all races, both sexes and all socioeconomic groups. It is not the suspicious person hanging out on a street corner selling or using drugs.

“It breaks all the stereotypes,” Denk said. “We need to get the message out.”

And once heroin latches on to a person’s psyche, it changes a person mentally and physically.

“It changes the mind and body. When someone says, ‘they chose to do this,’ that is a tough statement to support. It (heroin) takes control,” Denk said.

When it takes control, the outcome is most likely dire for both the addict and family.

“An overdose is a tragedy for anyone involved.”

Although the hearing is set to last three hours, Denk said it may run over depending on the testimony presented and the questions asked from the panel of board members and legislators.

Given the time restraints, Denk said the public, while welcome to attend, will not have an opportunity to talk at the hearing. However, those wishing to be heard can submit written testimony to Denk at by 11 a.m. Tuesday. All testimony received by Tuesday will be copied and distributed the day of the hearing.

A hard copy of the testimony can be submitted on Friday, but will not be part of the packet. All of the testimony will be compiled and may be featured in the report the Center releases at the end of the year.

While the hearing will be covered locally, people from across the state will likely be able to see the issues facing this area. Officials at PCN (Pennsylvania Cable Network) are interested in televising the hearing, but Denk was not sure when it would hit the air.

While the Center for Rural Pennsylvania has been in the spotlight for its focus on the heroin epidemic, the Center actually tackles a multitude of other issues facing rural Pennsylvania.

This includes a recent report of The Economic Impact of Pennsylvania Heritage Areas, which includes the U.S. Route 6 corridor.

“Our plate is still full of a host of topics and we continue to work on those.”

Another item that is full is the agenda for Friday.

Alexander will give the welcome, followed by opening comments from Yaw.

There are five panels set to testify. They are as follows:

Panel I – Sgt. Marty Henneman of the Pennsylvania State Police; Bradford City Police Chief Chris Lucco; and McKean County District Attorney Stephanie Vettenberg-Shaffer.

Panel II – Potter County District Attorney Andy Watson; Potter County Drug and Alcohol Program Administrator Colleen Wilbur; and Blossburg Mayor Shane Nickerson.

Panel III – Angela Eckstrom, executive director of the Cameron/Elk/McKean Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Inc.; Jennifer Greenman, outpatient supervisor for the Cameron/Elk/McKean Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Inc.; and Thomas Patterson, inpatient manager at Maple Manor, a part of Cameron/Elk/McKean Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Inc.

Panel IV – Jennifer Dippold, community outreach and development officer at Dickinson Center Inc.; Angela Chew, LCSW, clinical service director at Dickinson Center Inc.; Tana Funair, program director at Dickinson Center Inc.; and Dennis Crotzer, superintendent of the Johnsonburg School District

Panel V – Kim Cicon, director of the emergency department at Penn Highlands Healthcare in DuBois; a representative from the City of Bradford Fire Department; and Dr. Henri Lamothe, emergency room physician at Bradford Regional Medical Center.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, and state Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, will also be at the hearing. They will participate, but not provide testimony.

The Center started the hearings on heroin in 2014 and the board soon discovered what an insidious issue heroin is in Pennsylvania. Other hearings will be held in Lewistown and Aliquippa.

“We want to hold hearings in different areas across Pennsylvania,” said Christine Caldara Piatos, communications manager for the Center.

Christine Caldara Piatos
Communications Manager
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania
625 Forster St., Room 902
Harrisburg, PA 17120
(717) 787-9555
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