DiGirolamo Leads Discussion on Opioid Prescription Abuse, Misuse
HARRISBURG – Law enforcement, medical experts, drug treatment advocates and elected officials all came together today to discuss the issue of prescription drug and opioid abuse and misuse at a public hearing of the House Human Services Committee, said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), chairman of the committee and long-time advocate for drug and alcohol education, treatment and prevention.

Specifically, today’s hearing focused on opioids – namely heroin and opiate-based painkillers – and the impact of their abuse and misuse upon families in Pennsylvania. Compared nationally, the Commonwealth ranks ninth in terms of prescription drug abuse.

Approximately 70 percent of abusers are getting their drugs from family and friends, with half getting them for free. Many times the drugs are being obtained from family medicine cabinets – old or existing medications prescribed for previous surgeries or ailments. In other instances, the combination of medications, with or without alcohol, has led to accidental overdoses. In addition, when prescription painkillers are no longer accessible, users turn to heroin for a cheaper high.

“These deaths are tragic, they are senseless and they are absolutely preventable,” said DiGirolamo, who has sponsored legislation to create a prescription drug monitoring program and a resolution calling for an investigation into the financial impact of this proliferation, which includes the costs to the emergency health care, criminal justice, law enforcement and addiction treatment systems. 

Rep. DiGirolamo’s Video Comments:

In addition to describing the heartbreaking situation for families across the state, DiGirolamo said he believes clear guidelines are needed when prescribing these types of highly addictive painkillers and medications.

Among those testifying today was Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who was one of several calling the issue an epidemic.

“The Centers for Disease Control call this the fastest growing drug problem, surpassing auto accidents as the leading cause of accidental death,” Kane told the committee. “The new drug dealer is the friend who gave the kid the pills from his mom’s medicine cabinet.” She added that these kids don’t know what they’re doing and they don’t understand the consequences – a clear need to enhance education efforts.

Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick testified about his experiences in investigating cause and manners of death. “My view of this ‘epidemic’ is a view from the body bag,” he said. “It is the street view. It is the view where I must sit with families that never knew their deceased child had a drug dependency and now lies on my autopsy table. It is a hard story and a very complex story.”

He said that drug abuse is a complicated process and much has to do with the general state of our society, the increase in the use of opioids as analgesics for common pains in an outpatient setting, many times with little or no supervision.

According to Deb Beck, president of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania, the cost of untreated drug and alcohol problems to the state economy is $14.3 billion, including the loss of productivity, related illnesses, health care, crashes and crime.

All who testified support the prescription drug monitoring program that would be established under House Bill 1694, which is currently in the state Senate. They also underscored the importance of drug-take back collection events and drop boxes as a way to help people get unwanted medications like these out of their homes.

Others offering testimony were George Lloyd, M.D., Foundation of the Pennsylvania Medical Society; Pat Epple, CEO, PA Pharmacists Association; Rick Seipp, director of pharmacy at Weis Markets and a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Chain Drug Stores; and Julian Phillips, U.S. Pain Foundation.

Representative Gene DiGirolamo
18th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton
GeneDiGirolamo.com / Facebook.com/GeneDiGirolamo