HARRISBURG – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that drug overdose deaths hit record numbers in 2014, with more than 47,000 deaths nationwide.
CDC has outlined steps for stopping the overdose death epidemic. Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Gary Tennis issued the following statement in response:
“Like the rest of the nation, Pennsylvania is in the throes of the worst overdose death epidemic ever. In 2014, nearly 2,500 Pennsylvanians died from a drug overdose. With one in four families in the Commonwealth suffering with the disease of addiction, Pennsylvania, at the direction of Gov. Tom Wolf, has made addressing this epidemic a priority.
“The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs is working hard with its partners in the Departments of Health, Human Services and other agencies to execute a plan to stem the rising tide of overdose deaths.
“We have become a nation awash in prescription opioids, due to the historic and ill-fated medical movement toward overprescribing for pain over the past two decades. Opioid prescribing has quadrupled and today, four out of five individuals with heroin addiction start out with prescription opioids. Our initiatives therefore focus largely on prescription opioids, as well as preventing overdose deaths and expanding access to clinically appropriate treatment.”
“The record level of opioid overdose deaths around the country and here in Pennsylvania is tragic,” said Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy. “My department is working expeditiously to address this crisis on all fronts. Our primary goal is to work at prevention as well as providing treatment for those in need.”
Initiatives already under way include:
- Physician General Rachel Levine signed two standing orders that made naloxone, a medication that safely reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, available initially to all first respondersand later to all Pennsylvanians. Since police began carrying naloxone late last year, they have reversed more than 550 overdoses across the state.
- A “warm hand-off” process is being developed whereby overdose survivors would be taken directly from the emergency department to a licensed drug treatment provider.
- Pennsylvania’s Prescription Drug Take-Back Programfocuses on preventing diversion and abuse of prescription drugs by helping communities properly dispose of unused prescriptions. To date, approximately 40,000 pounds of prescription drugs have been taken back and destroyed. There are more than 400 police stations across Pennsylvania where drug take-back boxes are located.
- DOH is leading an effort to build upon the prescribing guidelines already created, including guidelines to address emergency department pain treatment with opioids, opioids in dental practice and opioids to treat chronic non-cancer pain. These guidelines give healthcare providers direction for safe and effective pain relief practices, with greater emphasis on non-opioid therapies and greater caution to prevent addiction and diversion.?
- Wolf’s decision to expand Medicaid eligibilityin Pennsylvania under the Affordable Care Act has expanded access to drug and alcohol treatment services for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.
- Wolf’s proposed budget includes a $9 million initiativeto combat the heroin epidemic, including expanded access to drug and alcohol treatment.
- DOH is working to establish Pennsylvania’s prescription drug monitoring program, “Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions” (ABC-MAP), which will help to ensure prescription drugs are not being overprescribed in an effort to curtail drug addiction and curb the supply of excess drugs that can be used illicitly.
- Pennsylvania is working with the Pennsylvania Medical Society to develop continuing education programs to help healthcare providers better understand addiction, intervention and treatment.
- DDAP and DOH are working with Pennsylvania’s medical school deans to ensure medical school students are properly trained about responsible pain prescribing and how to identify and help those suffering with addiction.