Addiction

Tony Talbot / AP

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is using $4 million in federal aid to help start up four regional medication-assisted programs to treat people struggling with drug addiction.

The $1 million grants announced Tuesday will be anchored by four health systems in Pennsylvania.

They are going to Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health Network, Danville-based Geisinger, York-based WellSpan Health and Harrisburg's Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, a collaboration between Penn State Health and PinnacleHealth.

Toby Talbot / AP

A southeastern Pennsylvania county sued 11 pharmaceutical companies Thursday for marketing tactics that county officials say misrepresent the dangers of long-term opioid usage while a national overdose crisis continues to kill tens of thousands of people annually.

Delaware County alleged in its complaint that the companies and three consulting physicians engaged in promotional campaigns that encouraged prolonged and widespread use of their powerful painkillers, despite knowing that in doing so consumers risked damaging health effects and addiction.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel began his criminal justice career in 1989, just as the commonwealth's prison population began to balloon.

It was the beginning of America's mass incarceration era -- one that Wetzel said his office is only now beginning to reverse.

Leftover Painkillers Driving Opioid Crisis, Penn Researcher Says

Sep 18, 2017
Emma Lee / WHYY

A researcher at the University of Pennsylvania says one of the big narratives explaining the onset of  the opioid crisis is wrong. 

Peggy Compton, a professor at Penn's School of Nursing, said the public often misunderstands the role opioid prescriptions have played in the crisis. The epidemic wasn't caused by people taking pills prescribed by their doctor to treat pain, she said. That idea, she said during a discussion among pain researchers at Penn, is a "myth."

"Simply by giving prescribed opioids to patients with pain, we are not creating addicts," Compton said Friday.

frankieleon / Flickr

A new University of Pittsburgh-led study reveals Pennsylvania Medicaid enrollees prescribed an opioid are still highly likely to continue that prescription after an overdose from a legal opioid or heroin. 

Matt Rourke / AP

A commission created by President Donald Trump asked him to declare a state of emergency over the nation’s opioid epidemic. Earlier this week, he declined. On Thursday, according to a White House pool report, he changed his mind.

The declaration would free the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to grant additional funding for resources, address leadership shortfalls and make changes to Medicaid coverage.

Methadone Clinic Operator Gets Prison Term In Pill Mill Case

Jul 27, 2017
Toby Talbot / AP

A defense attorney and a courtroom full of supporters depicted a woman who ran a methadone clinic for 20 years as a cross between a den mother and an angel of mercy to southwestern Pennsylvania's growing population of opioid addicts, but a federal prosecutor countered that she was a "greedy" businesswoman who defrauded Medicaid to feed a gambling habit.

U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer opted for the middle ground Thursday.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Calling the case "an American tragedy," a federal judge has sentenced a heroin dealer to serve more than two decades in prison for his role in the overdose death of a 20-year-old Pennsylvania man.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The state government isn't doing enough to measure the effectiveness of its addiction treatment programs that can be helpful in the fight against the epidemic of heroin and prescription drug overdoses, auditors said Thursday.

The audit launched last year by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale produced recommendations that three state agencies — the departments of Human Services, Corrections, and Drug and Alcohol Programs — do more to assess whether their addiction treatment programs are successful in curing people. It also warns that more money is needed to fund the effort.

PACast

Data from 2016 is still being calculated, but according to Gov. Tom Wolf, the number of drug overdose deaths is continuing to rise in the commonwealth. 

In an effort to combat the opioid epidemic, he is encouraging anyone connected with the fight to take a newly created certificate program.

Workers Compensation Institute

The use of prescribed opioid painkillers among workers' compensation claimants is falling in Pennsylvania at a rate slower than most other states.

The Workers Compensation Research Institute, or WCRI, looked at the number of prescriptions and the strength of the drugs given to injured workers who were off work for at least seven days but did not have to have surgery. Using data from 2009 to 2015, the institute found the use of opioids decreased by 10 percent in Pennsylvania.

Branden Camp / AP

E-cigarette users report feeling less dependent and addicted than traditional smokers do, according to a recent study. Even so, researchers don't believe e-cigarettes are safer than smoking tobacco.

Elaine Thompson / AP

A Pennsylvania psychiatrist and his colleagues are noticing some troubling mental health trends related to joblessness among their white, working-class patients. And those trends seem inextricably tied with the current political climate.

Dr. Kenneth Thompson is the president of the American Association for Social Psychiatry. He’s based in Pittsburgh, and said many of his patients fall into a very specific category—they’re white, male, high school-educated former Democrat-voters who supported Donald Trump for president.

Behind The Headlines: Pennsylvania's Opioid Crisis Up-Close

May 10, 2017
Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

To be addicted

With an increasing number of opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania, attention from state and local officials is growing as well as public attention around the issue. In 2015, there were more than 3,500 drug related overdose deaths in the state, which marked a sharp increase from the previous year. In Philadelphia, 900 people died as a result of overdoses, which is three times the number of homicide victims.

You don’t wake up and say, ‘I want to be a heroin addict.’ 

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania has been awarded a $26.5 million federal grant to combat the heroin crisis. 

The first requirement of the grant is to perform a needs assessment within four months of receiving the funds.

Cliff Owen / AP

Fentanyl deaths outranked those attributed to heroin last year for the first time in Allegheny County, according to data released Thursday by the medical examiner's office.

Coroners and medical examiners in all but one of the 10-county region reported spikes in drug overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016 -- up 44 percent in Allegheny County and 38 percent in Westmoreland County.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

At the age of 13, Alex Hoffman was already using alcohol and marijuana. By 14, he was on juvenile probation.

“I wouldn’t stop smoking weed, I wouldn’t stop drinking, so I kept failing drug tests and that lead to my first time going involuntarily into juvenile rehab,” Hoffman said.

It was not his last involuntary commitment. He bounced in and out of programs and jail for years before getting clean three years ago, at the age of 21. He remembered being dropped off at a juvenile facility by his parents on his 16th birthday.

A Song Within The Storm: How Motherhood And Addiction Collide

Feb 16, 2017
Maranie Staab / PublicSource

Sarah Womack stands in the center of her daughter’s pink room and explains why she had to take the frame off the bed and leave the mattress on the floor. After the Office of Children, Youth and Families inspected her home, the agency claimed that a bed with a frame would make a room seem too much like a bedroom and a bedroom would make things “too confusing” for Sarah’s daughter, Lola. The mattress on the floor makes Lola’s room a playroom instead.

Lola lives with her great aunt and uncle. That is her home. Not with Sarah. Not yet.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Two major prescription drug distributors have agreed to pay $36 million to settle a West Virginia lawsuit alleging they fueled West Virginia's opioid epidemic with excessively large shipments of painkillers into the state over several years.

State officials on Monday say Cardinal Health will pay $20 million and AmerisourceBergen will pay $16 million under the terms that have now been filed with Boone County Circuit Court.

The companies have denied any wrongdoing.

Judge William Thompson disclosed the proposed settlements two weeks ago with no details.

Jarus Health Technologies

Public health organizations are increasingly considering how they can use technology to battle the opioid epidemic that has claimed hundreds of lives in southwestern Pennsylvania in recent years.

Health care experts, students, investors and entrepreneurs will gather Thursday evening to discuss the opioid epidemic and develop collective solutions utilizing technology.

Looking At Addiction As A Health Crisis

Dec 3, 2016
Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

For the past 20 years, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, has been a vocal advocate for drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Pennsylvania. And he’s been pushing the public and lawmakers to stop looking at addiction as a crime.

“Addiction has to be looked at like a disease and it is, like other diseases, highly treatable, and treatment works,” he said.

Bridget Coila / flickr

Though multiple agencies provide help for new mothers battling opioid addiction, and their babies, having to travel between providers and locations can make it difficult for them to access care.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

When Chico Ficerai’s son admitted he was addicted to heroin, she turned to her church. The prayer and support helped, but she needed more guidance.

Courtesy UPMC

More than 400 people died from drug overdoses in Allegheny County last year. According to the Health Department, many of them were due to opioids, specifically heroin.

As public health officials continue to battle the opioid epidemic, health care professionals are looking for new ways to help patients transition from drug addiction to recovery.

Twice a day, Angela and Nate Turner of Greenwood, Ind., put tiny strips that look like tinted tape under their tongues.

"They taste disgusting," Angela says.

But the taste is worth it to her. The dissolvable strips are actually a drug called Suboxone, which helps control an opioid user's cravings for the drug. The married couple both got addicted to prescription painkillers following injuries several years ago, and they decided to go into recovery this year. With Suboxone, they don't have to worry about how they'll get drugs, or how sick they'll feel if they don't.

Flickr user Shaine Hatch

The state of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh announced a new partnership aimed at helping stem the tide of opioid addiction, county by county.

“It doesn’t matter where you go in the commonwealth, in southwestern PA, in urban PA, rural Pennsylvania and suburban Pennsylvania. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what zip code you come from, too many lives are being taken by heroin and opioids,” said Josh Shapiro, head of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which is funding the new center.

Spilled pill bottle
Charles Williams / Flickr

Pennsylvania is experiencing an overdose epidemic.

Allegheny County alone has seen its number fatal drug overdoses nearly double over the past five years, from 227 in 2010 to 409 in 2015. Neighboring West Virginia, where more than 35 residents out of every 100,000 died of drug overdoses in 2014, is home to the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country.     

Flickr user Rob Boudon

The operators of southwestern Pennsylvania’s two casinos have both been fined by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control board.

Washington Trotting Association, which operates the Meadows Casino in Washington County, was fined $40,000 after allowing two men who have placed themselves on the state’s self-exclusion list to access the casino and gamble at table games and slot machines.

Doug Harbach is communications director of the Gaming Control Board and said more than 9,700 people have placed themselves on the self-exclusion list.

Charles Williams / Flickr

While much of the testimony at a state Senate hearing in Pittsburgh on Thursday focused on the need for the state to fund opioid addiction treatment regimens, one expert recommended the state take legal action against insurers who illegally deny coverage of long-term rehabilitation programs for those addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers.

Pittsburgh's location as a drug-trafficking corridor warranted the city's inclusion into a federal initiative aiming to stymie the nation's opiate epidemic.

“360 Strategy” coordinates federal agents, local officers and community groups into a three-fold approach, said Gary Tuggle, Special Agent in Charge for the Philadelphia Division for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 

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