PITTSBURGH, May 9, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Governor Tom Corbett today convened a group of local and state health, law enforcement, legislative and judicial officials along with individuals impacted by addiction to discuss the response to Pennsylvania's growing opioid addiction and overdose situation.
Opioids can be found in many prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs such as heroin. Between 2009 and 2013, nearly 3,000 heroin-related overdose deaths were identified by county coroners in Pennsylvania.
"We've seen a concerning correlation between opioid prescription drug abuse and heroin use," Corbett said.
"As a former prosecutor, I've seen too many lives ruined because of addiction," Corbett continued. "This is a problem that cuts across geographic, social and economic boundaries. It affects families from rural areas, to suburban areas, to our cities. And it is doing so at an increasingly alarming rate."
The governor's plan is aimed at raising awareness about Pennsylvania's growing opioid problem and discussing how healthcare, law enforcement and community groups can increase collaboration to stop the cycle of addiction and stem the growing opioid overdose problem statewide.
"We need to educate our citizens, coordinate the enforcement of our laws and engage our communities to address this issue," Corbett said.
Corbett announced he is directing Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Gary Tennis to lead a working group of government officials to coordinate efforts at the state and local levels and will hold a series of panel discussions around the state to hear from various impacted communities and experts.
The working group is another step in the measures already underway through the governor's Healthy Pennsylvania plan.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 82 percent of individuals trying heroin for the first time admit to having previously used prescription pain drugs. Often, prescription drug abuse starts with access to unused prescription drugs in home medicine cabinets.
The governor's Healthy Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Take-Back Program, through a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Staunton Farms Foundation, provided 176 boxes in 33 counties statewide. More than 3,500 pounds of prescription drugs have been collected through the boxes in the first quarter of this year.
The governor also applauded the Pennsylvania Senate for its action this week on Senate Bill 1180 (Vance, R-Cumberland) which brings the Healthy Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Monitoring Program one step closer to his desk for signing.
The event today not only focused on further community and physician education, but also on increasing collaboration among law enforcement entities.
Pennsylvania State Police troopers seized over $16 million in heroin, crystal meth and other prohibited drugs in the first quarter of 2014, while the amount of heroin seized at the southwest border of the United States rose 232 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Recently, heroin has been laced with other potent drugs, including the synthetic opiate Fentanyl, a mixture that is almost always lethal.
"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death from drug overdose is now the leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S., surpassing motor vehicle crashes," Corbett said.
The event concluded with a discussion around current efforts to engage local communities, advance evidence-based prevention and treatment activities and better coordinate a response at the statewide level.
Physician General Dr. Carrie DeLone and Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Gary Tennis also co-chair another initiative with a group of medical professionals, associations and regulatory agencies that is currently finalizing and will look to promote guidelines that will establish the best and safest prescribing and pain management practices.
At the direction of the governor, DDAP Secretary Tennis convened an Overdose Rapid Response Task Force in July 2013 to improve communication about drug trends between emergency healthcare providers, law enforcement and drug treatment providers.
"Working together, I believe we can better address this problem, but it will take engagement and coordination on all levels - from the state, to the legislature, to our local communities, to activities we take inside our own homes," Corbett said.
The governor applauded Representative Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) for the creation of a legislative task force.
Corbett was joined by Senator Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland); Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald; Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association President and Cumberland County District Attorney Dave Freed; families impacted by opioid addiction and overdoses; and members of the medical and law enforcement communities.
Media Contact: Christine Cronkright, 717-783-1116
SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor