VILLANOVA, Pa., Sept. 16, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel today discussed the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania as part of the annual Matthew J. Ryan Law and Public Policy Forum at the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.
"The opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania affects us all," said Dr. Levine. "It indiscriminately devastates every race, class, sex, and community. Forums like this hold so much importance because battling the opioid epidemic will take collaboration between government, private, and academic communities."
Dr. Levine spoke on behalf of Governor Wolf and addressed the scope of the opioid problem in the commonwealth. She delivered her comments as part of a panel that included experts from the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Drug Policy Alliance.
The forum's theme was "Understanding the Opioid Epidemic." Speakers at this event explored the medical, legal, policy, and sociological dimensions of this issue. The conference also featured an excerpted screening of NBC 10's "Generation Addicted" with commentary by the documentarians.
Last fall, as part of Governor Tom Wolf's effort to address the opioid abuse crisis in the commonwealth, Dr. Levine signed a standing order that serves as a prescription for all Pennsylvanians to access naloxone at their local pharmacies.
Naloxone rapidly reverses heroin and other opioid overdoses. Heroin and opioid overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in Pennsylvania, killing more individuals each year than motor vehicle accidents.
Participating in the "Responding to the Crisis: Policy" forum, Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary John Wetzel spoke of how the epidemic crisis is affecting the state prison system and steps that should be taken to help individuals who suffer from addiction to opioids.
"The opioid epidemic is rampant not only in our communities, but also in our prisons," Secretary Wetzel said. "The DOC has seen an increase in the number of individuals entering the system who are addicted to opiates from 6 percent to 12 percent."
Wetzel said that expensive prison space should be saved for those individuals who, based upon the seriousness of their crimes, need to be removed and separated from society.
"Many of our inmates are in prison because they committed crimes in order to feed their addictions. These people need treatment more than incarceration. This is where getting these individuals into treatment programs through Centers of Excellence in their communities is really the best course of action for these individuals," Wetzel said. "We can address their addictions and help them to become drug free, which will eliminate their criminal behavior. If we do nothing more than send them to prison, these individuals typically learn to become better criminals based upon their associations with other inmates."
Wetzel spoke about the DOC's use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which provides regularly scheduled injections of drugs that reduce the craving that addicts experience. The first injection is provided while the individual is still in prison. Subsequent injections are provided in the community, are paid for by medical assistance and are combined with out-patient drug treatment for an entire year. This is important because the first year post-incarceration is the time individuals are most likely to experience difficulties, including relapse. The use of MAT helps to eliminate at least one hurdle – drug craving – that often can lead them back to prison.
"Our goal is to set these individuals on a path to success and a path that reduces future crime," Wetzel said. "For addicted individuals, treatment is the key to a sober and crime-free life."
Fighting the opioid epidemic is a top priority for the Wolf Administration. Some of the administration's initiatives in the fight against heroin include equipping the Pennsylvania State Police with naloxone, partnering with Adapt Pharma to make Narcan available to public high schools across the state at no cost, and developing the ABC-MAP prescription drug monitoring program to detect and prevent prescription fraud and abuse, which contribute to addiction.
For more information on the fight against opioid abuse in Pennsylvania, visit www.health.pa.gov.
To learn about the DOC's Medication Assisted Treatment, visit www.cor.pa.gov
MEDIA CONTACT: April Hutcheson, DOH, 717-787-1783
Susan McNaughton, DOC, 717-728-4025
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Health; Pennsylvania Department of Corrections