Pennsylvania Senate holds public policy hearing on opioid, addiction efforts

In Pennsylvania, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a public hearing on methods to counteract the opioid epidemic and bolster addiction treatment efforts statewide.

The state has been hard hit by the epidemic — the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that in the first six months of 2018 alone, 13,499 people in Pennsylvania were treated for opioid overdoses, while the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 4,500 people died from drug overdoses that year. OpendataPA added that around 800 residents die from overdose monthly. Both the state and federal governments have invested hefty resources into addiction treatments, professional shortages and to provide Naloxone (Narcan) for first responder treatment of overdosers. Still, lawmakers considered what more could be done.

The meeting — held in Philadelphia — was undertaken at the request of Democratic state Sens. Anthony Williams and Tim Kearney.

“The opioid epidemic has hit Philadelphia particularly hard,” Williams said. “We need to find a workable and compassionate strategy for getting these drugs out of our neighborhoods and helping people and their families who are struggling with opioid addiction.”

Some, like Committee Chair Lisa Boscola, took the opportunity to address other effects of the epidemic beyond the death toll — namely, crime. As opioids flourish, prisons are swelling, and treatment resources at both the state and county levels are becoming strained, she noted.

“While the state must continue to provide resources, the ultimate solution to the terrible crisis is both difficult and complicated,” Boscola said. “It will take the continued cooperative efforts of government, law enforcement, our schools, and our medical community.”

Others, like Michele Denk, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of County Drug and Alcohol Administrators, were on hand to argue to quality recovery services, to build on the work undertaken to cut overdose rates. Likewise, syringe services and medication were among the major concerns heard by the committee, with Department of Health officials and University of Pennsylvania professors testifying to the increased risks for those with substance abuse disorder and the necessity of these treatments for saving lives.

Notably, Williams plans on introducing legislation to create a syringe service program in Pennsylvania.

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