Prescription Drug Abuse Legislation Will Reduce Addiction and Save Lives

May 1, 2014

Wilkinsburg, PA – At a rehabilitation center just outside of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association today called upon the legislature to enact legislation that would have a significant impact on Pennsylvania’s prescription drug and heroin crisis. A floor vote in the Senate on Senate Bill 1180 to enhance the state’s prescription drug monitoring program could come as early as next week.

“Prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic levels in Pennsylvania,” said PDAA President and Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed. “We can no longer just talk about this serious public health and crime problem. This legislation will reduce addiction and save lives.”

Joined by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl Williams, and district attorneys from throughout western Pennsylvania, Freed said that one of the most effective ways to combat prescription drug abuse is through the operation of prescription drug monitoring programs.

“Research shows that these programs help combat prescription drug abuse and help identify prescription fraud, doctor shopping, forgery and improper prescribing,” Freed said. “Right now, Pennsylvania has one of the weakest prescription drug monitoring programs in the country. If we want to stop picking up dead bodies, the legislature should pass this bill.”

“In western Pennsylvania, like the rest of the state, prescription drug abuse has become a life or death situation,” said Zappala. “Law enforcement wants this legislation to fight crime, but families need this legislation, very simply to help save lives.”

PDAA is supporting S.B. 1180 (Vance, R-Cumberland) to strengthen the commonwealth’s current prescription drug monitoring program by increasing the types of controlled substances collected and ensuring appropriate access for those who can identify stop and address prescription drug abuse. Law enforcement would have access the information if it obtains a court order by demonstrating by a preponderance of evidence that they have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity has occurred and that the information is relevant to an active investigation.

According to Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl Williams, in 2012, Allegheny County had 289 overdose deaths, a large number of which involve prescription meds either on their own or combined with alcohol and other drugs. Pennsylvania’s drug overdose mortality rate ranks 14th in the country, and most of those deaths include overdoses involving prescription drugs.

Study after study concludes that prescription drug monitoring programs can assist appropriate prescribing, improve medical care, and reduce doctor shopping and its contribution to drug-related deaths. For example, after the inception of Florida’s program, doctor shopping declined 35% in FY 2012. States with proactive programs have lower rates of treatment admissions and doctor shopping. States without active programs are more likely to experience higher rates of controlled substance distribution. Program data can assist in substance abuse treatment.

Both Freed and Zappala emphasized the link between prescription drug and heroin abuse. “Almost 80% of those who have recently used heroin started by abusing prescription pain medication before moving on to heroin,” emphasized Freed. Zappala added, “the fact is that we have a way to begin to control heroin overdoses, and that is by enacting this critical legislation.”