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State studying next options for treating drug addiction

Published October 21. 2019 12:55PM

A statewide program to ensure drug overdose survivors receive treatment after they are released from the hospital is among the options under consideration for treating drug addiction.

State Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, previously introduced a bill, warm handoff legislation, which is an act providing for transferring overdose survivors to addiction treatment.

Heffley said the warm handoff legislation is a bill that has been modeled after the Blue Guardian program that’s been successful in Lehigh County.

“We want to take the next step and find out how can we best get people in treatment for addiction,” Heffley said. “We want to identify what is the best practice; how can we get that individual that is struggling with addiction the treatment and services that they need.”

Heffley and Todd Polinchock, R-Bucks, previously attended the inaugural meeting of an advisory committee established by the Joint State Government Commission that is conducting a study on “warm handoff to treatment” for people in Pennsylvania struggling with drug addiction.

Polinchock is the prime sponsor of House Resolution 216, which initiated the study and created a legislative task force to which he and Heffley were appointed by House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. The task force will present a report on its findings and recommendations to the House of Representatives within 18 months.

Heffley is the prime sponsor of House Bill 424, which would establish a statewide “warm handoff” program to ensure drug overdose survivors receive treatment after they are released from the hospital.

The advisory committee created by Polinchock’s resolution consists of physicians, hospital administrators, EMS company representatives, law enforcement officials and drug treatment experts. They will examine methods of collecting useful data, identify funding sources and, most importantly, find ways to stabilize those suffering from a drug addiction and getting them into treatment.

Joining Heffley and Polinchock as members of the bipartisan task force are Reps. Joe Hohenstein, D-Philadelphia, and Bridget Kosierowski, D-Lackawanna.

Heffley introduced the bill, warm handoff legislation, an act providing for transferring overdose survivors to addiction treatment, for a comprehensive warm handoff initiative; establishing the Warm Hand-Off Initiative Grant Program; providing for consents and for immunity; establishing the Overdose Recovery Task Force; and providing for overdose stabilization and warm handoff centers, for rules and regulations and for an annual report.

“This is all part of the study so we can make the best informed decision hearing from the professionals who have been working in this field for many years,” he said. “We will take that and apply that to House Bill 424, or any other bills that deal with how do we get folks into treatment. The goal is to get those people that are struggling with addiction into treatment and (determine) what is the best way to do that.”

Heffley noted that “we are seeing a decline statewide in overdose deaths, but we still have a long way to go, so we’re going to continue to address that because it impacts so many of our programs.

“We want to look at it as the entirety to help people with addiction to get the help that they need,” he said. “We need to do all that so we can to get these folks the treatment that they need to get their lives back on track, and that’s what this resolution is designed to do.”

Last year, Heffley also sponsored a bill that would create a detoxification bed registry to facilitate treatment for drug addiction.

Under the bill — which passed the House unanimously — the Department of Human Services would develop and administer an internet-based detoxification bed registry to collect, aggregate and display information about available beds in public and private inpatient psychiatric facilities and licensed detoxification and rehabilitation facilities for the treatment of people in need of inpatient hospitalization or detoxification.

This registry would contain information about facilities and licensed providers; information regarding the number of beds available at a facility; and provide a search function to identify available beds that are appropriated for the treatment of a substance abuse emergency.

Heffley said Pennsylvania lost about 2,300 people to overdoses last year, noting that it’s the No. 1 leading cause of accidental deaths in the state.

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