Heroin use taking a toll on Pennsylvania
Some states are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what's happening in Pennsylvania:
THE PROBLEM: Law enforcement officials and health professionals agree — heroin use is on the rise in Pennsylvania. Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, a leading lawmaker on drug abuse issues, calls its use "epidemic, no question about it." The attorney general's office says most of its current drug cases are heroin-related, and the office has made more than 300 heroin arrests since the start of 2013. This year, about two dozen deaths in Pittsburgh and surrounding counties were blamed on heroin laced with the painkiller fentanyl. Deb Beck of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization says the current rise in heroin use appears to differ from previous patterns. "Heroin prevalence would come and go and then simmer back down again," Beck said. "I'm not sure that's going to happen this time because the prescription medication is driving the heroin problem."THE NUMBERS: Hard numbers on heroin use and deaths are difficult to come by in Pennsylvania. The 2012-13 annual report from the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs said heroin has been rising in popularity. Four years ago, 20 percent of those newly admitted for drug treatment cited heroin as their primary substance of abuse. The rate has increased to 23.5 percent. The attorney general's office says Pennsylvania has about 40,000 heroin users. THE RESPONSE:Bills are pending in the Legislature to establish a prescription drug database to track opiates and discourage doctor and pharmacist shopping; to give police, firefighters and family members access to the heroin-overdose antidote naloxone; and to provide limited immunity from legal liability to people who call for help when someone is overdosing.