Pennsylvania is one of 44 states, 4 tribes and the District of Columbia to receive a portion of the $53 million the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding to address the epidemic of opioid drug abuse.
“The epidemic of opioid use disorders involving the nonmedical use of prescription opioid pain relievers and the use of heroin has had a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities across our nation,” said Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto in a statement early this morning. “These grants will help address the key elements of the opioid crisis.”
Pennsylvania is receiving funds for two of the six programs being funded and subsequently administered by SAMHSA and the the Center for Disease Control.
The commonwealth will receive part of the $9 Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Prescription Drugs Grant. These funds target prescription drug misuse by raising awareness of the dangers of sharings prescription medication and addressing the risks of over-prescribing medications with potential for misuse. Community awareness campaigns will target schools, communities, parents, drug prescribers and their patients.
Meanwhile, the Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States program will Pennsylvania with a portion of the $11.5 million available for supplement funding to address high overdose death rates and improve toxicology and drug screenings. This money can be used to enhance prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP), which are state-run electronic databases that track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients.
Pennsylvania’s own PDMP launched last Friday. Drug dispensers must now collect and submit information about each dispensing of a controlled prescription drug within 72 hours. Doctors will now check to ensure they are not prescribing a drug to a patient who has recently filled a prescription for the same drug.
The announcement also comes as Pennsylvania lawmakers wrap up a series of hearings across the state where they gathered testimony from experts and those affected by the opioid epidemic. One of the hearings was held in Warrington on Aug. 15.
“This is such an important issue and a big problem. We have to pull out all the stops,” said state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo earlier this week. As one of 25 lawmakers who attended the Warrington hearing, he said the “biggest issue,” at least in Pennsylvania, is the availability of treatment.
“There’s a large population in between that does not qualify for Medicaid and for whatever reason don’t have private insurance. When those people need help they show up at the county they live in’s doorstep,” he explained. “There is help available through the county, but a lot of times they run out of money.”
The new grants won’t address this issue for Pennsylvania, but the PDMP funds will come as DiGirolamo plans to introduce a bill that requires to check the database before prescribing controlled substances for all patients, not just ones coming to that doctor for the first time. The bill would go against testimony from Dr. Scott Shapiro, who said in Warrington on behalf of the Pennsylvania Medial Society that expanding the database requirements would become cumbersome for doctors and hinder their ability to see as many patients in a day.
“I understand where he’s coming from, but people are dying from this stuff,” said DiGirolamo this week. “We are in a crisis situation and I think we’ve got to do everything we can.” he said.