To stop overdose deaths, Pennsylvania needs better data, expanded treatment | Pennsylvania

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania continues to lose thousands of residents every year to drug overdoses. The latest meeting of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania gathered to hear from experts on what can be done to prevent more deaths in the future and get treatment for those who need it. 

One shortfall of Pennsylvania’s current approach, however, is a lack of good data. Though law enforcement agencies are now required by law to report more information about overdoses, other government agencies do not.

Jeremiah Daley, executive director of the Liberty Mid-Atlantic High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which covers parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, wants to see those reporting requirements expand to include EMS workers, first responders, and staff at medical facilities that respond to an overdose first.

“At this point, we’re clapping with one hand, only collecting the law enforcement responses,” Daley said. “We also have to have a real commitment to evidence-based and evidence-informed substance abuse reform efforts. Unless we stop the appetite that is developed in this country for the consumption of controlled substances, psychoactive substances, we will never really get ahead of the game.”

He also noted the need for more effort from educators, health care providers, policymakers, and leaders of community groups to get information to those most at-risk for substance abuse and overdoses.

“We should also be looking to get substance abuse disorder treatment programs to be more accessible and universally available to those who are already caught up in addiction and dependency,” Daley said, as well as tangible support for those in recovery after treatment.

Other testifiers emphasized other programs already employed. Making sure more Pennsylvanians can access anti-overdose drugs such as naloxone was a common emphasis, as was medication-assisted treatment, which has received federal funding to expand.

“To meet immediate needs, it’s essential that we invest in treatment and harm-reduction strategies,” said Glenn Sterner, assistant professor of criminal justice at Penn State University-Abington. “The most effective treatment strategy for addressing opioid use disorder is through the expansion of access to medication assisted treatment, particularly buprenorphine and methadone. Expanding access into rural areas … will ensure treatment access for those who are currently underserved.”

Sterner also advocated training and hiring more recovery and treatment specialists to help those with addictions, and developing prevention initiatives. Developing an “early-warning system” for drug-related problems, similar to what other states are doing, such as Ohio and Vermont, could also help.

“There is no current entity coordinating data across multiple sources including law enforcement, emergency room use, public health, EMT, and others, that could signal existing and future threats to public health and safety due to substance related issues,” Sterner said.

Though the threat to public health is real, experts also warned against a fire-and-brimstone approach when teaching children about the dangers of drug use.

“Effective prevention takes time. We need to shy away from … those fluff programs,” said Jeff Hanley, executive director of the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance. “We don’t need scare tactics.”

This article First appeared in the center square

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