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Pitt Partners With State To Address Opioid Crisis At County Level

Flickr user Shaine Hatch

The state of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh announced a new partnership aimed at helping stem the tide of opioid addiction, county by county.

“It doesn’t matter where you go in the commonwealth, in southwestern PA, in urban PA, rural Pennsylvania and suburban Pennsylvania. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what zip code you come from, too many lives are being taken by heroin and opioids,” said Josh Shapiro, head of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which is funding the new center.

The Pennsylvania Heroin Overdose Prevention Technical Assistance Center, or TAC, will provide support and training to county officials in creating strategic plans to address the crisis.

Associate professor of pharmacy and therapeutics Janice Pringle will head the center, which is funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

“We’re going to provide technical assistance, almost like you would if they were a patient, to help them over time so they can keep moving in the right direction,” she said.

Pringle said the trainings will teach county officials how to collect and understand real-time overdose data and to identify evidence-based strategies which address that region’s particular needs.

“Understand if they’re starting to see a rise in heroin, or they’re starting to see new drugs come in, or if they’re starting to see more men than women, more people that are younger than older,” she said. “How can you build a plan based on that and match it to the evidence-based practices so you can hit the target better.”

In addition to collecting data on overdose deaths, some counties are working to reach out to overdose survivors.

“A death is one thing, and we don’t want to see more deaths, but for those that do survive, we want to make sure to connect them to care if they are interested,” said Latika Davis-Jones with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

Other potential strategies include teaching prescribers to limit opioid prescriptions, distributing the anti-opioid overdose drug Narcan to schools and other institutions and bolstering medication-assisted treatment programs that use drugs such as Methadone to help people get off opioids.

Counties will also receive assistance through coalitions with law enforcement, addiction treatment centers, health care providers and educational institutions.

The one-day training sessions begin July 13. Pringle said TAC staff will travel across the state for in-person sessions with two or three counties at a time.