Opioid Epidemic Hits Pennsylvania Hard

Posted by L Moore and LA Cook

Dec 8, 2016 7:30:00 AM

EPISCenter responds to the growing opioid epidemic in the state of Pennsylvania

Imagine an 18-year-old former high-school football star, now a shell of his previous self. His decline started when a knee injury left him in a lot of pain. No one knew it, but he became addicted to the pills that were prescribed by his doctor to help him recover. He says he later started using heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get on his college campus than painkillers. 

Or consider the young teen who was suspended from school because she was found "under the influence of something." Later, her parents found out their daughter bought pills from one of her classmates who took the pills from his mother’s medicine cabinet.

In Pennsylvania and across the country, many parents are sharing similar stories about their family’s brush with opioids. Opioids are prescribed to alleviate pain, but according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), our country is in the midst of a growing opioid abuse epidemic.

The opioid epidemic

The CDC reports that more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record. The majority of these deaths (more than 60%) involved opioids.

In addition,

  • Opioid pain relievers were involved in more than 14,000 overdose deaths in 2014
  • More than 1,000 people per day are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for opioid misuse
  • Past abuse of opioids is the strongest risk factor for initiating heroin use

Pennsylvania has been hit particularly hard:

  • According to the DEA, 3,383 overdose deaths were reported in Pennsylvania in 2015
  • This represents a 23.4% increase from 2014
  • At least one opioid was involved in 53% of these deaths, Fentanyl and Oxycodone were the most common

Can we stop opioid addiction before it starts?

In light of this epidemic, in spring 2016, the EPISCenter, an organization dedicated to promoting the use of prevention and intervention programs, joined with key state leaders and evidenced-based model experts to discuss if and how programs currently funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime Delinquency could be used to address specific concerns related to the opioid epidemic. The good news was the group determined that two of these prevention programs have clear evidence of effectiveness specifically for preventing opioid abuse, Lifeskills Training and Strengthening Families. Several other programs are effective for general substance abuse prevention. For a list of these programs and their substance abuse prevention outcomes click here.

However, two key barriers to implementation were identified. First, practices that are not evidence-based and "scare tactic" programs are being heavily marketed. Although these type of programs help people to feel like they are "doing something" about the epidemic, these programs don’t use prevention best practices and there are no evaluations of their impact. Second, prevention programs that have been proven to be effective in preventing opioid abuse are not being implemented broadly enough.

To address these barriers, the workgroup has been reviewing and developing resources to help communities and service providers better understand the opioid epidemic and build strong strategies to prevent addiction before it starts.

Where can parents, providers and policymakers turn for more information?

While Pennsylvania’s opioid prevention workgroup continues to work to understand and address this problem, the EPISCenter has developed a collection of resources and links to websites for fighting the opioid epidemic. Resources are organized to address the diverse concerns of parents, service providers and policymakers. Click here to learn more. 

Lee Ann Cook is the Assistant Director of the EPISCenter in Pennsylvania, and Lori Moore is a Manager of Network Partnerships at MST Services.

To learn about how MST can treat substance-abusing youth, download this white paper.

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Topics: Substance Abuse