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State Gets CDC Money To Fund Prescription Drug Tracker

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has received a renewable $900,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that will go toward battling the state's prescription drug overdose epidemic.

Heroin and opioid overdose are the leading cause of accidental death in Pennsylvania. More people die from overdose than do from car accidents -- 2,400 in 2013 alone.

Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf, called the overdoses “a critical public health crisis.”

“It is something that is very important to the governor and his administration to combat, and we are looking at this from a number of different angles," he said.

The money will feed into the state's existing Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and related community-based interventions. There will also be an evaluation of long-standing drug laws and policies that are designed to work with the best regulations in the state, Sheridan said.

Pennsylvania doctors were concerned the budget bickering in Harrisburg would mean further delays for the program. Supported by the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the expanded registry was approved but never funded last year to monitor the prescription of opioids, often cited as precursors to heroin use. 

The group’s CEO Michael Fraser lamented the lack of sustained monetary support.

“We’d hate to see, again, continued delay on this really, really important tool that physicians can use ... to improve the health of their patients and also assure that we’re able to screen out potential drug shoppers or scammers in the exam room and in our emergency rooms across the state,” he said.

The budget stalemate was the second blow to the expanded drug registry. The program wasn’t funded at all under last year’s spending plan.

The secretary of the state’s health department promised previously that the database will be up and running next year.

Pennsylvania is one of sixteen states splitting $20 million in grants from the CDC. Others include Arizona, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin.