Heroin

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.

Wikimedia Commons

Drug-related deaths are usually ruled accidental.

But one Pennsylvania coroner said he's ruling some overdoses homicides. Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling said he’s not the first in Pennsylvania to interpret toxicology reports in that way and that it's legal. 

Drug-related deaths are on the rise in Pennsylvania - the state saw more than 2,700 in 2014. That's an increase of 13 percent from the year before. Among all overdoses, heroin is the most frequently identified drug. 

Ben Allen / WITF

 

The opioid addiction crisis in Pennsylvania isn't just impacting adults, it's taking a toll on babies in the wombs of mothers who use prescription pain killers, heroin or Fentanyl.

WITF reporter Ben Allen recently reported on the issue for NPR and he spoke with WESA's Larkin Page-Jacobs about what he learned while working on the story. Allen said he visited a hospital in Harrisburg where they treat infants born addicted to opioids.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In 2012, Lynda Carr lost her son Charles to a heroin addiction. Three years later, her stepson was killed in a drug-related car accident.

“Most people probably would not recover from that, but in spite of her loss, Lynda has chosen to give back,” said one person, whom Lynda sponsors as part of Nar-Anon, which relies on the anonymity of its members.  “She gives back by helping people like me every day.”

Angela S / flickr

Throughout the country, municipalities are being impacted by the abuse of heroin and opioid use. What’s being done in the commonwealth to address the problem? We’ll pose that question to Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary of Health Lauren Hughes and discover how the health department plans to work with healthcare professionals throughout the state to confront opioid abuse. 

Mike Richards / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh FBI Office, as part of its Heroin Outreach Prevention and Education Initiative, has launched a pilot program that seeks to educate young people on the dangers of opioids, rather than just continue making arrests.

The program allows students to take ownership of the problem in western Pennsylvania, according to United States Attorney David Hickton.

Lauri Rantala / Flickr

A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh has indicted a Washington County man on four counts of drug offenses related to trafficking heroin laced with the painkiller fentanyl, U.S. Attorney David Hickton announced Tuesday.

Ronald Milliard, 24, of Washington was allegedly involved in the distribution of heroin that was tied to at least two overdoses in Washington County in August, according to Hickton. The county has been wracked by 222 overdoses and 33 overdose deaths since that month. Twenty-seven overdoses fell within a two-day span.

frankieleon / Flickr

  In the past week, three people have died in Allegheny County from opioid overdoses.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton said Wednesday there were 15 non-fatal overdoses in Cambria County since Monday and at least a dozen non-fatal overdoses in Washington County since the weekend.

Hickton, the western Pennsylvania federal prosecutor, said law enforcement agencies are now treating every overdose as a criminal investigation.

Craig Zirpolo / Flickr user VCU CNS

Norwin School District in Westmoreland County will start stocking the anti-opioid drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan, in its school nurses’ offices early this year.

Superintendent William Kerr said training for nurses, coaches and administrators is scheduled for February.

An increasing number of school districts are keeping the drug on hand, as the number of opioid overdose deaths in the region continue to skyrocket.

Frankleleon / Flickr

A new report – the first of its kind in Pennsylvania – which looked at drug overdose totals for 62 counties, highlights the problem of prescription drug and heroin abuse. 

“What’s most notable about this report is the amount of overdose deaths that are attributable to prescription drugs and heroin,” said Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Patrick Trainor. “That’s where you’re seeing the most significant numbers.”

Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

As drug and law enforcement agencies find a growing link between prescription pain killers and heroin use, they’re trying to attack the problem of abuse and overdose from multiple sides.

Among their allies are those doling out prescription medication: pharmacists. A little more than 200 southwestern Pennsylvania pharmacists are in Pittsburgh through Friday for a conference hosted by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Wikimedia Commons

A new report shows that heroin abuse in Pennsylvania continues to grow and recommends that treatment be a priority.   

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania just released its second report titled, “Heroin: Combating this Growing Epidemic in PA.” It includes testimony from public hearings held over the summer and focuses on the growing problem of heroin abuse, pointing out that the drug affects a diverse demographic.

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. 

Genetics And Environment Big Influences For Drug Addicts

Nov 10, 2015
Charles Williams / flickr

According to our guest heroin addiction is a desperation issue. Some addicts are seeking an inexpensive way to treat their pain. So, what does it take for someone addicted to heroin and other opiates to get treatment? We’ll pose that question to our guest Sarah Younger, a drug and alcohol counselor.

gackmc / flickr

Heroin related deaths in the U.S. have tripled from 2010 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overdoses are now the leading cause of death for people 24 to 44 in Western Pennsylvania, mainly in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, showing that heroin use is no longer just an inner-city problem. Data from the University of Pittsburgh underscore the demographic shift: 65% percent of people dying from heroin overdoses in the Pittsburgh region are men (35% women), most are white, and their ages range from teens up to the early 70s. 

Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, says the problem originates not from street gangs and drug trafficking, but in suburban medicine cabinets.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has received a renewable $900,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that will go toward battling the state's prescription drug overdose epidemic.

Heroin and opioid overdose are the leading cause of accidental death in Pennsylvania. More people die from overdose than do from car accidents -- 2,400 in 2013 alone.

Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf, called the overdoses “a critical public health crisis.”

Eric Molina/Flickr

Lawmakers and public health officials say local heroin use shows no signs of slowing.

“I’ve been in health care for over 30 years and it is the worst public health crisis I’ve ever seen,” said Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Karen Murphy. “That is what drives us, that is what gives us our passion, and I can assure you, we will not stop.”

AP Photo/Mel Evans

Kate is 25 and began drinking, smoking and experimenting with prescription drugs when she was a teenager in Washington County.

“I started doing pills in high school, 15, I think. Something just happened in high school and I just was, you know, curious and then it just turned into doing it too much."

Paul A. Hebert / AP Images

The man known for hit songs like "Chances Are," "Misty" and "It's Not For Me To Say," Johnny Mathis, is coming to Pittsburgh next week to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as part of the PSO's Thursday Icons Series. Mr. Mathis will talk about a career in which he has sold millions of records as well as aspects of his personal life including his battle with alcoholism. (starts at 13:06)

AP Photo/Don Ryan, File

Heroin abuse has been on the rise in America, killing hundreds in Allegheny County last year. Public safety and public health officials are scratching their heads for a solution as nothing seems to be slowing down the drug.

Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center, said he’s watched the numbers grow.

“In 1985 there were 22 drug overdose deaths in Allegheny County," Capretto said. "Last year 2014, the count is already up to 299, they’re still working on those numbers. It’s probably going to be somewhat higher, and the vast majority of those are prescription medicine and heroin."

PA Law Prohibits Needle Exchanges That Can Save Lives

May 10, 2015
Connor Mulvaney / PublicSource

Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians crave daily injections of heroin. Beyond the threat of overdose is the threat of being exposed to HIV and hepatitis C, both deadly and expensive illnesses that are easily spread through contaminated needles.

But in Pennsylvania, distributing sterile syringes is a criminal act.

How Accurate Are State Heroin Overdose Statistics?

Apr 9, 2015
Ben Allen / WITF

Heroin abuse has reached crisis levels in the commonwealth and across the Northeast.

But determining the full scope of the problem is proving harder than one might think.

Pennsylvania State Police will now carry the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone in their cruisers.

In Pennsylvania, heroin and prescription drug abuse is the leading cause of accidental death, killing more people each year than motor vehicle accidents. In 2014, state police investigated 183 overdose deaths and 126 non-fatal overdoses, according to Gary Tennis, acting secretary of the Department of Drug and alcohol Programs.

Punchy Judy / Flickr

In 2014, heroin addiction and overdose deaths became an epidemic across the country, across the state of Pennsylvania and especially in Allegheny County.

Dr. Neil Capretto, Medical Director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center says the high rate of overdoses in southwest PA can be tied to use of prescription medicines, along with a blue collar and aging demographic.

"There was a need for pain medicines and doctor's started prescribing it and pharmaceutical companies started marketing to doctors heavily. And they were giving the message, 'This is safe, not addicting. Less than one percent of people who ever use Oxicodon ever have a problem.' That was the message from the companies. So there was a lot of prescription medicines, very heavy in our community. Then thousands of people in every town from Kittanning, to Downtown Pittsburgh, to Clarion, to Washington PA got hooked onto prescription medicines, and that led to the heroine problem."

Capretto explains that as an addiction to legal prescription opiates develops, heroin emerges as a cheaper alternative, once refills run out. But addiction is not simply about the relief of physical pain.

Capretto says he considers addiction to be a biological, psychological, social, and even spiritual disease. 

"Opioids are very good at stopping and blocking pain; physical pain, emotional pain, psychic pain... I've talked with thousands of people with addiction over the years and I never met one who started using any drug because they wanted to intentionally add more problems to their life on purpose. They're trying to solve some problem, block some pain." 

A Coordinated Effort to Cover the Complexities of Heroin Addiction

As news of the increasing number of heroin overdoses has made headlines throughout Pennsylvania, newsrooms are making a coordinated effort to cover the most important angles of this public health crisis.

Sharon Walsh, editor of the investigative journalism organization PublicSource, has been compiling the work of PA media outlets that have been reporting on the heroin problem.

Agency Battling Drug Crisis Has a Big Job, But Little State Money

Jan 12, 2015

If officials are tuned in to the statewide heroin crisis that has killed thousands of Pennsylvanians, they apparently think it’s a cheap fix.

After six years of inaction, in 2010 the Pennsylvania General Assembly created the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, formerly a modest bureau tucked into the Department of Health.

Then they piled on a huge workload and gave it little money.

Holly: One Face of the National Heroin Crisis

Nov 24, 2014
Connor Mulvaney / PublicSource

For Holly Wright, heroin was bliss.

It was cheap, and it was everywhere. She craved the rush of energy that came with the high, but soon she needed the drug just to get out of bed and feed her children without feeling dopesick.

But last year, she was confronted with a choice. She could keep her addiction and lose Dani, then 2, and her older brother Brayden, then 6. Or she could get treatment and start clean with her family.

By then, heroin had already taken her job and her money. And she didn’t realize the damage it had done to her children.

A comprehensive and rational drug policy in Pennsylvania may be elusive for some time, warns one academic.

State lawmakers have considered a few different remedies to the spiking rates of heroin overdoses in Pennsylvania. In the next few weeks, they'll turn their attention to the abundance of painkillers. If abused, such opioids can turn people on to heroin.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Heroin and prescription drug abuse is at epidemic levels in western Pennsylvania and across the nation, according to U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania David Hickton. His U.S. Attorney’s Working Group on Drug Overdoses and Addiction has released a report outlining the problem and making recommendations to combat it going forward. The main goal of the group is to reduce overdose deaths.

Heroin use has been on the rise across the U.S. since 2007, with more than 660,000 admitted users between 2011 and 2012, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In one week last January, 22 people in western Pennsylvania died of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl.

To combat deaths caused by heroin and other narcotic overdoses, the Pitcairn Police Department is partnering with Forbes Hospital to train and equip officers to administer opioid “antidote,” Narcan.

When it comes to prescribing pain medications for patients with chronic diseases, Pennsylvania is doing OK – but could be doing better.

That’s according to the 2013 "Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card," which gave the commonwealth a “B” grade.

The report card was created by the University of Wisconsin Pain & Policy Studies Group and was funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), its Cancer Action Network (CAN) and LIVESTRONG.

Pages