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Report: Treat Heroin Addiction As Chronic Disease, Improve Treatment

A new report shows that heroin abuse in Pennsylvania continues to grow and recommends that treatment be a priority.   

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania just released its second report titled, “Heroin: Combating this Growing Epidemic in PA.” It includes testimony from public hearings held over the summer and focuses on the growing problem of heroin abuse, pointing out that the drug affects a diverse demographic.

“It [addiction] is not just an urban problem, a black problem, a poor problem, it is across the board in Pennsylvania and this nation and we really need to get our arms around it and understand it and try to prevent addictions from occurring above all,” said state Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria), a member of the center’s board of directors.

The report’s recommendations include treating addiction as a disease, and ensuring those who have a drug addiction have access to treatment.

“People are not necessarily getting the treatment that they need,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), who prompted the board to take up the issue. “They are going into multiple treatment sessions, it’s [treatment] not available to everyone, it’s maybe not as effective in some cases for some people.”

Schwank said there needs to be a focus on different treatment options for different individuals. She also said that the legislature needs to make funding treatment programs a priority.

“I think that we’ve done a great job on law enforcement, we must continue those efforts, prevention efforts have to continue, but treatment is the area we have not really explored,” she said.

Other recommendations include expanding early intervention programs statewide, establishing a uniform way in which overdose deaths -- specifically heroin deaths -- are reported, expanding the use of Naloxone among local police departments and requiring continuing education for those licensed to prescribe medications in the state on pain management and prescribing practices of opioids. The increased use of opioids, or painkillers, has left many dependent. However, prescription drugs can be expensive on the black market, so people turn to a more affordable option in heroin.

There were 2,489 drug-related deaths in Pennsylvania in 2014, a 20 percent increase from 2013, according to the Pennsylvania State Coroner’s Association. The group also reported that initial data for 2015 indicates the number of deaths will continue to increase.

Sen. Wozniak said education and awareness are critical to preventing and stopping substance abuse, and that it should be treated as a disease which can affect anyone.

“Not everybody that’s hooked on drugs is a worthless junkie,” said Wozniak. “It’s somebody's son, daughter, mother, cousin.”

The full report can be found online

Deanna fell in love with public radio in 2001, when she landed her first job at an NPR station: KRWG-FM in Las Cruces, NM, where she also attended college. After graduating with a degree in journalism and mass communications, she spent a summer in Washington, D.C. as an intern at NPR's Morning Edition. Following that, she was a reporter/All Things Considered Host at WXXI in Rochester, NY. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Deanna was the local All Things Considered host for KUNC in northern Colorado. In her spare time, Deanna enjoys watching movies and TV shows on DVD (the Golden Girls and Little House on the Prairie are among her favorites), bicycling, yard work, and reading.