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Policy Hearing on Opioid Epidemic

Philadelphia – February 21, 2020 – At the request of state Senators Anthony H. Williams (D- Delaware/Philadelphia) and Tim Kearney (D- Chester/Delaware), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a public hearing today in Philadelphia on ways to combat the opioid epidemic and strengthen addiction treatment.

“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.”

Kearney added, “Dealing with this addiction crisis is going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach. This hearing is critical toward taking bold steps to tackle this crisis head on and provide communities with necessary resources.”

State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton), who chairs the committee, said, “Apart from the very tragic human toll, this drug epidemic is spurring crime, swelling our prisons and straining limited state and county treatment resources. While the state must continue to provide resources, the ultimate solution to the terrible crisis is both difficult and complicated. It will take the continued cooperative efforts of government, law enforcement, our schools and our medical community.”

“Now that people are not dying of overdose, we now need to provide them some quality recovery services,” Michele Denk, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of County Drug and Alcohol Administrators, said.

Denk said the association represents Single County Authorities (SCA) handling the local responses to the opioid epidemic. The SCA system rapidly transformed in response to the opioid epidemic through the use of state and federal block grants.

The state and federal government have invested millions in resources to treat addiction, address the shortage of professionals who treat addicts, and provide Naloxone (Narcan) to help first responders treat overdose victims.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, during the first six months of 2018, 13,499 people were treated in emergency rooms for opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania. OpendataPA estimates that 800 Pennsylvanians die from overdose every month.

Roseanne Scotti, Senior Technical Advisor at the Pennsylvania Dept. of Health, said that 4,500 Pennsylvania’s died from a drug overdose in 2018.

Scotti also said that those who survive overdoses, and those who live with a substance abuse disorder, face an increased risk at contracting HIV and Hepatitis C. She said that syringe service programs reduce the chances of contracting these diseases, keep people from overdosing and allow people to access treatment for their substance abuse disorder if they so choose.

“The Department of Health supports legislation to explicitly allow for these programs,” Scotti said.

Sen. Williams is preparing legislation that would create a syringe service program in Pennsylvania.

Dr. David Metzger, Research Professor and Director of the HIV Prevention Research Division at the University of Pennsylvania, said that both syringe service programs and medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorders are essential is treating those with substance abuse disorder and will ultimately save lives and keep people as healthy as possible.

“Easy access to both is needed in every community in Pennsylvania,” Metzger said.

Philadelphia has been hit particularly hard by the epidemic. It is estimated that the number of drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia increased by 50 percent from 2013 to 2015. Of those, 80 percent were from opioids. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health reported that the county had 2,266 overdose deaths in 2017, nearly double the second closest county (Alleghany).  The Heroin Domestic Monitor Program revealed that the county consistently had the purest and cheapest opioids in the state.

According to the Opioid Data Dashboard, which is compiled by the state Department of Health, there have been 29,610 doses of Naloxone Administered by emergency medical services from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 7, 2019.

April Billet-Barclay , Director of York County Probation Services, said that one of the biggest risks of those leaving incarceration are those with substance use disorders and going back to using drugs and overdosing.

Billet-Barclay said that diversion programs in the criminal justice and court systems are one of the best pathways to get those with substance abuse disorders into needed treatment rather than incarceration.

The hearing was held at the University of Pennsylvania. It was the second of two committee hearings on the issue. The first was held at Delaware County Community College on February 12. A full recording of that hearing is available at senatorboscola.com/policy.

Sen. Shariff Street (D- Philadelphia) and the Honorable Pennsylvania Supreme Court Associate Justice Kevin Dougherty also attended the hearing.

Testifiers for today’s hearing included:

  • Devin Reaves, Executive Director & Co-Founder, PA Harm Reduction Coalition;
  • Jose Benitez, Executive Director, Prevention Point Philadelphia;
  • Michele Denk, Executive Director, PA Association of Drug & Alcohol Administrators;
  • Roseanne Scotti, Senior Technical Advisor, Syringe Access Services, PA Department of Health;
  • Meghna Patel, Deputy Secretary for Health Innovation, PA Department of Health;
  • Dr. David Metzger, PhD., Research Professor and Director, HIV Prevention Research Division, University of Pennsylvania;
  • Dr. Kendra Viner, PhD., MPH., Director, Division of Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction, City of Philadelphia;
  • April Billet-Barclay, Director of Probation Services, York County Adult Probation and Parole;
  • Matthew Schmonsees, Drug and DUI Coordinator, Philadelphia Treatment Court;
  • Lesha Sanders, Veterans Court Coordinator, Philadelphia Treatment Court; and
  • Hon. Charles Ehrlich, Judge, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas 

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