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Center for Rural Pennsylvania releases report on growing heroin epidemic

Posted: October 22, 2014

On September 23, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania released a report summarizing the findings of four statewide hearings held to examine the growing numbers of heroin and opioid related deaths and arrests across Pennsylvania.

Two of the findings highlighted support for legislation currently under consideration in the General Assembly: one bill that would provide immunity to an individual who contacts authorities in the event of a drug overdose and a second that would expand the types of drugs monitored under the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

The report lists additional items for consideration that were addressed by the more than 50 presenters, who included law enforcement officials, health care providers and family members who lost loved ones to heroin and other opioids. These items focused on the areas of education and prevention, law enforcement, and treatment.

"This epidemic affects individuals of every age, gender, race, and background," said Senator Gene Yaw, Center for Rural Pennsylvania board chairman. "The increased use of heroin, which often has roots in the abuse of prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin, has catapulted Pennsylvania to seventh in the nation for drug-related overdose deaths in the latest federal statistics.

"Right now we have a public health crisis facing rural Pennsylvania," Senator Yaw said. "Although our focus was specifically on heroin use in rural Pennsylvania, we know addiction has no municipal, county, or state boundaries.  It is, across the board, a statewide and national epidemic impacting residents of every age, race, gender and socioeconomic background.  Simply locking people behind bars is not the answer. We, as a state, need to do more."

Over a two-month period, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors joined legislators from across the state for the hearings. The hearing sites were selected to achieve geographic representation and perspectives reflecting the diversity of Pennsylvania. Board member and Northeast Regional Center Director, Stephan Goetz, attended the hearing held in Clarion.

"The powerful testimony at these hearings has highlighted the staggering personal, human and economic costs of heroin abuse in rural areas. They have also shown that no single entity in a community can adequately address the problem on its own," said Goetz. "Instead, close collaboration across different agencies is essential if we are to solve this problem. We also need to better understand which changing socioeconomic factors explain and predict heroin abuse, and poor mental health more generally."

The report and links to the testimony from the public hearings are available on the Center for Rural Pennsylvania's website at www.rural.palegislature.us.

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The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly. It was created in 1987 under Act 16, the Rural Revitalization Act, to promote and sustain the vitality of Pennsylvania's rural and small communities.