Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA

Acclaimed poet Sheryl St. Germain is a college professor whose son died of a heroin overdose in 2014, after a long struggle with drug abuse. He was 30 years old.

Toby Talbot / AP

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration says it is ending a pre-authorization requirement for Medicaid recipients to receive coverage for medication they are prescribed to help treat opioid addiction.

Jeff Roberson / AP, file

Methamphetamines have faded into the background as the opioid epidemic has taken hold of the country with deadly tenacity.

However, in the last couple of years, meth cases have been on the rise in some parts of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The change is one of degrees, said Patrick Trainor, a supervisory special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Philadelphia.

“These drugs have never gone away, but we have noticed an increase in seizures in this region,” he said.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

Emergency medical workers in Westmoreland County will soon begin leaving naloxone and addiction treatment information with overdose survivors who refuse to go to the hospital.

Philadelphia Wants Safe Injection Sites To Help Opioid Fight

Jan 24, 2018
Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Philadelphia wants to become the first U.S. city to allow supervised drug injection sites as a way to combat the opioid epidemic, officials announced Tuesday, saying they are seeking outside operators to establish one or more in the city.

Keith Srakokic / AP Photo

There's evidence to suggest that cocaine is more addictive for adolescents than adults. Scientists believe that at least part of this has to do with biological mechanisms in the brain, but they're not sure exactly what those mechanisms are.

A special sensor being developed at the University of Pittsburgh could help give them a better understanding.

Elaine Thompson / AP

Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against drug companies that make prescription opioids, saying they've created "an unprecedented public health crisis."

First Responders Face Growing, Deadly Risk On Overdose Calls

Jan 13, 2018
Mel Evans / AP

"Welcome back."

It was the first thing Sgt. Giovanni Trello heard when he woke up in the back of an ambulance headed to the hospital.

Tim Betler / UPMC

A new combined 27-bed addiction rehabilitation-detox facility will soon open at UPMC McKeesport.

Mel Evans / AP

*UPDATED: Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 at 4:35 p.m. 

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has declared Pennsylvania's opioid addiction epidemic a public health emergency and ordered a command center set up to treat the crisis like it would a natural disaster.

Feds Employ Data-Driven Early Warning System In Opioid Fight

Jan 2, 2018
Keith Srakocic / AP

The pain clinic tucked into the corner of a low-slung suburban strip mall was an open secret.

Life expectancy in the U.S. fell for the second year in a row in 2016, nudged down again by a surge in fatal opioid overdoses, federal officials report Thursday.

"I'm not prone to dramatic statements," says Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics. "But I think we should be really alarmed. The drug overdose problem is a public health problem, and it needs to be addressed. We need to get a handle on it."

Organ Donations From Fatal Drug Overdoses Double

Dec 16, 2017
Allen G. Breed / AP

Charles Grugan's drug addiction took a toll on his family.

They tried to help him, but on Oct. 12, 2011, Grugan 33, overdosed on heroin. He never recovered.

Carla K. Johnson / AP


A series of community discussions and an interactive website featuring the stories of the opioid crisis will launch in Pennsylvania next year as part of a campaign to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction.

PA Hotline Links Those In Need With Help To Confront Opioid Addiction

Nov 28, 2017
Toby Talbot / AP

One of the most frequent complaints that Jennifer Smith, acting secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, hears from family and friends concerned about loved ones’ opioid abuse is that they don’t know how to access treatment.

“I heard over and over and over again … my child needs treatment, but I have no idea how to get him or her there. I don’t know who to call,’” said Smith last month at a hearing on the state of the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania.

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.


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.