State Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) wants to address a growing drug epidemic in the state.
On Thursday, he, joined by state Rep. Kurt Masser, announced plans to introduce a resolution that would create an advisory committee to look into opiate and heroin addictions and overdoses.
"One of the biggest problems facing our state, our nation and our county is the addiction of heroin and prescription opiate drugs," Heffley said, noting that Pennsylvania is ninth in the nation in drug overdose deaths with 15 for every 100,000 residents. "The numbers speak for themselves. Out of the 38,000 overdose deaths that happen each year across the United States, three in every four are related to opiate drug abuse."
He said the numbers have significantly increased in opiate abuse between 2002 to 2009, and the trend continues to rise. Of the results from the Center of Disease Control's study, there is a 105 percent increase in men abusing opiates, an 81 percent increase in people between the ages of 26 and 34 and a 135 percent increase in people ages 35 to 49.
"Drug overdoses are all too common for those who become addicted to prescription drugs," Heffley continued.
Heffley explained the resolution, if passed, will create a joint state government commission of four legislators; and an advisory committee consisting of representatives from the Department of Drug and Alcohol, Department of Public Welfare, Insurance department, the state board of pharmacies, the Attorney General's office, Fraternal Order of Police, the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee, the District Attorneys Association, the Coroners Association; as well as members of the Pennsylvania medical and psychiatric societies and other medical officials.
The committee would look at things like prescribing guidelines for doctors; doctor training for identifying drug addiction, equipping law enforcement with opiate emergency drugs that can help revive a person who is overdosing and give them more time to get help at a hospital; expanding treatment options and reducing long-term costs to counties, states and taxpayers.
"It is my hope that this will lead to safer pain management methods and make sure doctors are trained to identify drug addiction and have the ability to refer patients to a place where they can receive appropriate care," he said, noting that he would like to see the advisory committee's recommendations implemented in a year.
"Clearly the tactics we are using now aren't working. We can't keep hoping that using the same methods will lead to different results," said Heffley.
"I believe we need to address the prescription drug epidemic that is leading directly into our heroin epidemic. We need to do this for our children."
Masser, who lost a niece to an overdose, commended Heffley for taking the first step in the fight this country is facing in regard to drug abuse.
"We can't put a cost on our children's lives and that is so much more important," he said. "The cost of doing nothing is unacceptable. What we're doing isn't working."
Karen Flexer, a Carbon County sheriff's deputy who lost a son in 2011 to a prescription drug overdose, was happy to see this resolution being introduced.
"I look forward to the day when prescription drugs aren't so easily attainable," she said. "If this would have been in effect on April 23, 2011, I think my son would still be here."
Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, agreed with Heffley's resolution, explaining that drug abuse affects everyone.
"We need to get our act together and look at what can be done," he said, adding that it may cost more at first to implement programs, but overall it would decrease the long-term cost to taxpayers, counties and the state.
He added that it is alarming how early children are beginning to try drugs.
According to the 2011-2012 youth drug and alcohol survey results for all Carbon County schools, 90 students in the county use or have used heroin, 140 tried Vicodan, 132 tried Percocet, and 126 tried OxyContin.
More alarming is that 84 sixth-grade students that answered the 2012-2013 survey have tried some type of drug.