Opioid epidemic in Westmoreland County has officials struggling to find a solution

Charles Echard

Writer at Tam O'Shanter
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." -Voltaire
Charles Echard

Opioid abuse. It’s in the news. It’s at school. It’s in the streets. It’s at home. But where does it come from? Why is it so prevalent? What’s being done to prevent it? And what are the actual numbers behind this epidemic?

The Westmoreland County Coroner report reported 174 fatal overdoses for the year of 2016. That’s a nearly 40 percent increase from 2015. The Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force’s webpage even says that, “Overdoses–both from prescription and illegal drugs–have been the leading cause of death among accidents and suicides in Westmoreland County for the last eight years.” This rise in overdose deaths coincides with a rapid increase in prescription opioid pain medications, as mentioned by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in a statement to the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

According to the 2014 World Drug Report, which was conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, up to 33 million people in the world used some form of opioid in 2014.

But in the United States alone, “The number of prescriptions for opioids (like hydrocodone and oxycodone products) have escalated from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 217 million in 2013,” said Volkow.

Volkow went on to say that, “the United States (were prescription opioids’) biggest consumer globally, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) and 81 percent for oxycodone (e.g., Percocet).

The mentioning of this statistic in Volkow’s report emphasizes that, according to Volkow and the National Institute on Drug Abuse,  factors of the current prescription opioid epidemic “include drastic increases in the number of of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.”

As far as number of overdoses in the U.S. in 2014, overdose deaths as a result of prescription opioid medications tripled over the two decade span before 2014, according to Volkow.

As for curbing the effects of the opioid epidemic, in the summer of 2016, some calls for drug reform were answered by federal legislators with the introduction and passing of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA. The act was designed to help curb drug abuse, but was criticized by many lawmakers as an “all talk” bill, since it didn’t provide nearly as much funding to combat the drug epidemic as President Barack Obama (D) had requested.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed off on a bipartisan package of legislation to combat the opioid epidemic in November of 2016. Among the legislation were provisions to prohibit Emergency Department opioid prescriptions larger than seven days.

Candidates on both sides of the aisle in the 2016 election campaign voiced their sorrow for those affected by opioid overdoses, but so far, that sorrow has not translated into further legislation in Washington or Harrisburg since the installment of new legislators and the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump (R).

The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, according to Governor Wolf, could be “devastating.” In a letter to House Leader Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Wolf wrote, “”This is not hyperbole – access to treatment through Medicaid is keeping Pennsylvanians alive who might otherwise face overdoses or worse.”

According to Business Insider, “Government officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle in Pennsylvania are warning that a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, would have disastrous consequences in the state — one that has been especially stricken by the nation’s opioid crisis amid a messy state budget outlook.”

About Charles Echard
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -Martin Luther King, Jr. "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." -Voltaire

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