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Fewer Funerals, More Intervention – Pennsylvania Naloxone Program Turns Two

December 20, 2016

Two years ago today, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association in conjunction with statewide agencies and law enforcement announced a game change in our approach to combatting Pennsylvania’s opioid crisis: we began to supply local police departments with naloxone, a resuscitation medication that reverses the effects of overdose emergencies. Since then, naloxone intervention has saved over 2,100 lives across our state, with more coming as law enforcement and first-responders join in protecting our neighbors.

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From hundreds of lives saved in Allegheny, Delaware and York Counties to just one in Centre County, each number represents one less funeral and one more opportunity for life-saving intervention.  While no one considers naloxone a magic bullet to solve the opioid/heroin crisis it is part of a comprehensive approach that must include prevention, education, the criminal justice system, and treatment.

Two things are certain: 1) we can’t arrest our way out of the problem and 2) there is still a long way to go to address the scourge of opioids that affects one in four PA households. Each year 3,000 Pennsylvanians die from drug overdose – not counting accidents, disease, or suicide, all corollary results of this epidemic. Nor can numbers represent the human tragedy of a parent’s struggling with a child’s decline in the grips of addiction, or the children of addicts neglected by caregivers seduced by pills and street heroin.

In Pennsylvania, we’ve recognized the problem – and we are taking the next steps.  Statewide and county by county there are comprehensive, multi-faceted, and creative approaches and partnerships between prosecutors, state and local officials, the medical profession and prevention and treatment professionals to end the opioid scourge.

Among them, in Washington County, District Attorney Gene Vittone has teamed up with faith leaders to create Project Refuge, bringing faith communities into the fold in our fight against addiction. In Dauphin County, DA Edward Marsico has in place two, 24-7 mobile case manager units to respond to overdose calls and work to get people into treatment and counseling.. In Lackawanna County, DA Shane Scanlon has made combatting the heroin epidemic his top priority, launching a robust community outreach platform to connect residents with law enforcement, neighborhood groups and medical professionals. And in Lancaster County, DA Craig Stedman mapped out where overdoses occur to “show these communities that are in disbelief” that overdoses are happening throughout the county. And across the state, prosecutors have offered secure prescription-drug drop-off locations, allowing residents to offload over 700,000 lbs. of drugs that might have otherwise gone to the streets or been used by family members or friends.

Prosecutors care deeply about these issues, not just because we see the consequences in our caseload, but because we’re your neighbors in every county of our state. So while we take a moment today to reflect on the anniversary of this successful program, we advocate every day for a comprehensive approach that brings together public health officials, county administrators, and community leaders across our great state.

There is no silver bullet end the addiction scourge, but we are heartened and thankful for a program that’s saved over 2,000 lives to date. Today we stop to consider our success. Tomorrow, there’s more work to do.

Special thanks to the health insurance providers who help underwrite naloxone distribution: Capital BlueCross, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Geisinger Health System, Highmark Foundation, UPMC, AmeriHealth Caritas, Independence Blue Cross, and Cigna.

Written by PDAA President and Lebanon County District Attorney David Arnold darnold@lebcnty.org.

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