Sen. Yaw Responds to Latest Heroin Death Report

Analysis of 2015 Drug-Related Overdose Deaths Released by DEA

HARRISBURG – State Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) today addressed the latest report issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Philadelphia Field Division’s (PFD) Intelligence Program, which analyzed illicit and diverted pharmaceutical abuse in Pennsylvania, as measured through drug-related overdose death data.

According to the July 2016 report, 3,383 drug-related overdose deaths were reported in the state in 2015, an increase of 23.4 percent from the total number of overdose deaths reported in 2014.  The presence of heroin or at least one opioid was reported in approximately 81 percent of the decedents.

“For two years, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania heard first-hand testimony projecting an increase in the number of overdose deaths from 2014 into 2015,” Yaw said.  “Sadly, information being collected this year will undoubtedly reveal that 2016 will be increasingly worse.  With more than 3,300 residents succumbing to drug abuse last year, there exists a clear and present crisis for our state’s law enforcement, public health agencies and educators to combat drug availability, address drug treatment and promote drug education,” Yaw added.

Beginning in 2014, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a bipartisan, bicameral legislative research agency of the General Assembly has held 10 public hearings focusing specifically on law enforcement efforts, treatment and recovery services and education across the state.

“The Center’s work has laid the foundation for greater awareness by the legislature in coordinating a statewide response,” Yaw added.  We have looked extensively at every facet of this growing crisis, and my colleagues and I are working to address many of the issues brought to our attention legislatively.”

The DEA report indicates that heroin remains a pervasive drug of abuse, as it was present in overdose decedents in 59 of the 62 counties that reported drug-related overdose deaths and associated toxicology results.  Further, the majority of overdoses were male, with white males comprising 74 percent of the decedents.  The median age of decedents was 40.

Twelve rural counties were among the top 20 counties with the highest rate of drug-related overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2015.  In the 23rd District, Bradford County jumped from 30th in 2014 to 22nd in overdose deaths in 2015, while Lycoming County jumped from 48th to 30th.  Rural counties’ distribution among the top 20 is representative of the overall population throughout the state, as 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s counties are considered rural.

The report also noted the lack of mandatory reporting required for drug-related deaths by county coroners and medical examiners in the state.  As a result, the PFD attempted to verify all collected 2015 data with each specific county.

In order to address the rise in opioid and heroin abuse and reporting inaccuracies, Yaw has introduced eight bills based on information from the Center’s public hearings. They include bills to increase continuing medical education for existing doctors, expanded medical school curriculum for future doctors, mandatory coroner reporting, limiting opioids prescribed to children, limiting opioids in hospital emergency rooms and labeling requirements for pharmacies.


Rita Zielonis, Chief of Staff
(717) 787-3280