The Drug Enforcement Administration is set to announce a pilot program that will fight the opiate epidemic in western Pennsylvania. The program will focus on opiate abuse and addiction and the effects of prescription painkiller addiction and heroin. The DEA says that the pilot program is the first of its kind and will target drug-related crime while working closely with health care and social service agencies on long-term solutions.
The pilot program will be launched in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania because the city has had a significant increase in heroin overdoses in recent years. Going into a city that is being torn apart by heroin and prescription painkillers addiction will give the DEA a great platform to use the new program and see how well it will work. If this program shows signs of success, it will be implemented on a national level.
The DEA spokesman Patrick Trainor said, “Heroin and pill overdoses are through the roof, and it's making us in law enforcement look at some different approaches.”
Pennsylvania has seen a major increase in the amount of opiate overdoses since 2009 where 47 people died. Compare that number to the amount that have died over the past five years with over 800 people and it shows great concern for the well-being of its citizens and they amount of lives that are being affected dramatically and quickly.
The opiate epidemic has gained the attention of the members of Congress and one Senator, Bob Casey, a Scranton, Pennsylvania (Democrat), openly supports two bills that are involved with the epidemic. The bills are the The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act, also known as TREAT and the Treatment and Recovery Act. Both bills are directed at increasing the amount of healthcare providers to treat opiate addicts and they also increase the funding for more treatment, prevention, and education programs to help curb the epidemic.
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, a Lehigh Valley Republican is a chairman for the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Healthcare. Recently at one of the Senate Subcommittee meetings he called for halting the illegal diversion of prescription painkillers, reducing the overuse of opioids for treating long-term pain and helping addicts receive the right treatment for their situation. On top of all of these movements, he introduced legislature to prevent inappropriate access to prescription painkillers that lead to the addiction of heroin and also the overdose deaths caused the heroin.
The numbers of overdose deaths in western Pennsylvania are staggering. Everyone knows that the opiate issue is serious, but when you hear the actual numbers it puts things into perspective. Overdose deaths in Allegheny County were close to 300 last year and the numbers for Washington and Westmoreland counties quadrupled. U.S. Attorney David Hickton out of Pittsburgh has declared the problem “a public health crisis.” Hickton is the head of the National Heroin Task Force and he assembled the U.S. Attorney’s Working Group on Addiction to enhance treatment and prevention measures. It is expected that the pilot program will be successful and will be pushed as a national platform in the future.