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Study finds Pa. is “lagging” in fight against opioids

Lawmakers, governor plan special session to tackle problem

Pennsylvania is lagging behind when it comes to combating opioid pain pill and heroin addiction, according to a report released today by the National Security Council, but elected officials are springing into action with plans for a special legislative session.

The council deemed the opioid epidemic the most fatal drug crisis in U.S. history, blaming it for the loss of 165,000 American lives between 2000 and 2014.

It evaluated efforts by all 50 states based on six indicators deemed necessary to confront the crisis.

The study found that Pennsylvania has been successful in half of the indicators. It has adopted opioid prescribing guidelines for physicians, it is currently building a prescription drug monitoring program and it has issued a standing order prescription for Naloxone across the state.

What Pennsylvania doesn’t have, according to the study, is continued education for medical professionals who prescribe opioids, legislation that eliminates ‘pill mills,’ or practices that over prescribe opioid pain pills, and enough access to treatment across the state.

This week, the state made progress in two areas that are critical to the opioid epidemic battle – improving legislative efforts and advancing a prescription drug monitoring program.

Pa. seeks to improve opioid combat efforts

State lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf announced yesterday that a special session of the general assembly will be called to address the opioid addiction crisis.

During the session, lawmakers will consider bills related to opioid addiction, many of which already have been moving through the legislature.

Special sessions are rare and are used only when the most troubling issues demand real change, according to a statement released yesterday by the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

The society, which represents state physicians, has been at the forefront in fighting for change in opioid prescribing, and it offers online resources to medical professionals.

The state’s drug monitoring program, meanwhile, is not yet live. But today, data submitters, such as pharmacists, will start entering all controlled substances they sell into the database, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health website.

“I guess from one sense it went live, because people can now submit data, but it’s not working as a true monitoring program yet,” said Patricia A. Epple, CEO of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association.

The monitoring program has been in the works since 2014 when state law began to require monitoring of substances deemed likely to be abused or to make users dependent on them.

Tracking opioid prescriptions is critical, as more than 259 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2012. The council’s study reported that 1.9 million Americans are addicted to opioid pain pills.

As more people become addicted to opioid pain pills, heroin use increases. The study found that four out of five heroin users started by taking opioid pain pills that were prescribed to them by physicians.

The increase in opioid addiction has led to an increase in fatal overdoses. In an attempt to save lives, Rachel Levine, the Pennsylvania physician general, signed a standing order in fall 2015 to allow anyone access to Naloxone across the state.

Naloxone is a medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.

Several prescribing guidelines have been written for state physicians, and they can be accessed on the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol’s website.

Lenay Ruhl

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