Report Shows Heroin Abuse Is a Growing Epidemic in PA

(L-R): Rep. Bryan Barbin; Charles Barbera, MD, MBA, FACEP; Sen. John Wozniak, and Sen. Gene Yaw
(L-R): Charles Barbera, MD, MBA, FACEP; Rep. Fred Keller; Sen. John Wozniak; Sen. Scott Wagner; Sen. Gene Yaw; Rep. Garth Everett; and Sen. Scott Hutchinson

On Sept. 23, 2014, Pennsylvania Sen. Gene Yaw and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania released findings from four statewide public hearings held over the summer that researched heroin abuse in Pennsylvania. The research confirmed what many strongly believed — that Pennsylvania has a growing problem that’s at an epidemic level.

The report included the recommendations of nearly 50 presenters totaling over 15 hours of testimony from educators, students, elected officials, law enforcement officials, medical and health care professionals, treatment providers, and family members who have lost loved ones. The report also identified nearly 20 issues requiring additional evaluation, research, and action.

“Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet to solve this program, and it will take great effort of many individuals and organizations,” said Bruce MacLeod, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED), in a PAMED statement. “Closely related to the heroin epidemic is prescription drug abuse, which also can no longer be ignored,” he said.

“Heroin and opioid abuse has no geographical boundaries,” Sen. Yaw said.  “This is an epidemic affecting individuals of every age, gender, race, and background across the state,” he said.

Two years ago, PAMED started its “Pills for Ills, Not Thrills” campaign with the goal of raising awareness of prescription drug abuse and reducing its incidence in Pennsylvania. Since then, we have been at the forefront of many initiatives aimed at achieving this goal, including:

  • Continuing to advocate for a statewide, controlled substances database that would give physicians better knowledge of prescriptions written for and filled by a patient
  • Supporting drug drop-off programs
  • Making voluntary opioid prescribing guidelines for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain available in conjunction with the state and developing guidelines for the treatment of pain in the emergency department in conjunction with the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians
  • Developing CME webinars for physicians and other licensed prescribers on the use of long-acting and extended-release opioids

“Sadly, though, physicians do not have access to a controlled substances database,” said Dr. MacLeod. “If one was available for physicians use, it would help at the grassroots level when a doctor shopper enters in exam room to scam a medical practice for prescription drugs. It’s time for the Pennsylvania Senate and House to pass prescription drug monitoring legislation, and give physicians access to this important information,” he said.

He also said that PAMED applauds Sen. Yaw and the members of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania for their research efforts.

“We look forward to working with Sen. Yaw and his colleagues to pass related legislation,” he said.

Charles Barbera, MD, MBA, FACEP, immediate past president of the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians (PACEP), represented PACEP and PAMED during the Sept. 23 news conference during which the report was released.

Read the statement from the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians.