Friday brought two developments regarding the opioid and heroin epidemic in the U.S., both of which will impact Central Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released additional funding for substance-abuse services, and the Senate passed an act to enhance programs seen as critical to tackling the nation’s prescription opioid and heroin crisis.
The number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain pills has nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2013, and deaths related to heroin have increased 39 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to a news release.
Pennsylvania is the state with the third-highest number of heroin deaths, and it ranks ninth for drug overdoses, according to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who has been pushing for more emergency funding.
Funding for treatment
In the midstate, two organizations have received funding to expand substance-abuse services, specifically those related to opioid use.
Family First Health in York received $352,083 and Keystone Rural Health Center in Chambersburg received $352,083.
The money is part of $94 million in Affordable Care Act funding going to 271 health centers in 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The grants were announced Friday by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell.
“The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing public health issues in the United States today,” Burwell said.
Expanding capabilities of health centers that serve underserved or rural populations is expected to help an estimated 124,000 new patients gain access to substance-use treatment. The funds will also help health centers hire approximately 800 providers across the nation.
The recipients of the funding applied for it in fall 2015 through a competitive process, according to Jenny Englerth, CEO for Family First.
The money will help Family First increase its capacity to screen patients for substance abuse and to provide more on-site treatment, counseling and recovery support to medication-assisted therapy.
Family First will offer these services in York and Hanover.
“That’s certainly where the need is presenting the most intensely,” Englerth said.
The funding will allow for approximately three new staff members, according to Englerth.
Although the funding is not a full solution, it will provide additional pieces to the puzzle that will allow the organization to focus both on prevention and treatment, according to Englerth.
“We can look at our rate of death due to heroin, we can look at our rate of request for treatment, and we know this is a huge problem in our community,” Englerth said.
On Friday, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a bill that authorizes programs for prescription opioid and heroin treatment.
The bill will support alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders, promote treatment and recovery and provide vital support to states on the frontline of the overdose epidemic, according to a news release.
It will also advance efforts to reduce overdose deaths through naloxone.
Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is a medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey announced his support for the bill last week, and is currently pushing for an amendment that would allow for more funding.
“Too many Pennsylvania communities are experiencing these crises, and I’ve never seen anything like this in my almost 20 years as a public official in our state,” Casey said.