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Host: Scott LaMar

Opioid Addiction

Written by Rich Copeland - Producer, Smart Talk | Dec 21, 2016 3:00 AM

James Acord and Rhonda Pasek, arrested after being found unconscious in their vehicle with a 4-year-old in the backseat (Courtesy East Liverpool police)

The rate of opioid overdoses has skyrocketed in Pennsylvania.  According to a DEA report, 3,383 Pennsylvanians died of drug overdoses - more than half involving heroin.

In recent years, heroin has seen a resurgence in use among addicts.  Experts attribute this to the explosion of prescribed opioid painkillers.  Medical trending in the late 90's and early 2000's led doctors to prescribe painkillers rather than recommend physical rehabilitation or alternative pain management.  A proliferation of time-released, opioid painkillers flooded the market.  Doctors were encouraged by the pharmaceutical companies to push them on patients and insurance companies were quick to pay for the drugs that were cheaper than other pain-management techniques.  This led to widespread opioid pill abuse.

In 2013, the DEA began reducing the amounts of pills the pharmaceutical companies could manufacture.  This drawback in supply led many addicts to turn to heroin, the illicit Schedule 1 narcotic that many painkillers base their chemistry on.

The problem of heroin addiction has been exacerbated by powerful additives used to strengthen street heroin.  Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain medication that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.  Fentanyl is being illegally manufactured and exported by Chinese labs and cut with heroin for distribution.  Addicts seek the augmented high at the elevated risk of death by overdose.

And every day, a new story of another overdose fills the front pages.  Earlier this month, Philadelphia saw 35 deaths in five days, all attributed to heroin cut with fentanyl.  Another three died in York County - in a span of five hours.  Police finding unattended children, found in squalid conditions with parents nodding off or dead from heroin, have become a common occurrence.

State and local officials are scrambling to find a solution to this growing trend.  Governor Wolf recently signed a bill that would restrict prescriptions for minors and increase educational outreach.  But these programs do little to address the underlying causes of addiction.

Smart Talk will spend the hour discussing opioid addiction and the consequences thereof.  Deb Beck, President of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania will discuss the scope of the problem and some of the causes for the outbreak.

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Deb Beck / David Sunday

Jason Snyder, Special Assistant to Pennsylvania's Secretary of Human Services, will talk about a $20 million effort to fight the opioid addiction outbreak.

York County Assistant District Attorney David Sunday will talk about what he's seeing in the courtroom and which programs are most effective in treating addicts.  Transforming Health Reporter Ben Allen will walk us through the maze of state agencies and private service providers working to combat opioid addictions.

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Jason Snyder / Ben Allen


-  i have a question,  if drug abuse is so deadly and so bad...........why is there an urge to legalize recreational use of cannabis?   i cannot believe that those who use pot stay with pot and not move on to stronger drugs.                    - Thomas, Manheim Township

-  Great show - can you please comment on why so many young people try heroin in the first place, especially those who don't start with prescription drugs.             - Joel, York

- Can you please discuss some of the evidence based treatment options - medication assisted treatment- for those dealing with opiate use disorder? Why do drug courts in many capital counties not allow their participants the best chance at recovery through options other than drug free or vivitrol (why can't they use suboxone or methadone)?      - Kathleen

- could you please have your panelists explain why the cost of heroine at least regionally is coming down when the demand is increasing? Also, could better education about the risks of these Prescription drugs be provided by the pharmacist directly to the patient ?              - Mark

Pennsylvania State Republican Senators are hosting a statewide series of Telephone Town Halls, called "A Commonwealth Crisis," aimed at discussing the heroin and opioid epidemic. This format connects PA residents directly with local experts to generate a dialog and to answer any questions constituents may have. Our next event is on January 10, 2017 from 6:30pm in the Southeast region of the state. The following event is in the South Central region on February 7, 2017 at 6:30pm. Participants can simply listen in or join the discussion from the comfort of their own home.

We are urging residents to sign up to receive a call immediately prior to the event by going to, texting TALKHEROIN to 828282, or they can stream live online. A Commonwealth Crisis also has facebook and twitter pages.

The event is hosted by Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) and our expert guests for the next event are Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine, Delaware County D.A. Jack Wehlan, and Barry Denk, Director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

I've attached an informational flyer about the series - we would truly appreciate it if you could announce this to the public and perhaps post it to your website please.

Additionally, our website is aimed at providing information to educate PA residents about treatment, legislation, and other important resources.


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