Fighting an epidemic

Pennsylvania Attorney General visits Warren to discuss opioid addiction

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (right) shakes hands with Warren County District Attorney Rob Greene following a meeting Wednesday morning regarding the state’s opioid epidemic.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro was in Warren on Wednesday talking about the statewide opioid emergency.

Shapiro met at Warren General Hospital with numerous representatives of law enforcement, as well as representatives from state government, emergency services, emergency medical, children and youth, youth ministry, the hospital, probation, public defender, and others.

Gov. Tom Wolf has declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in the state.

During the public portion of the event, Shapiro answered a few questions from those in the room about the role of institutions of faith can take in stemming the epidemic, how it can be more difficult for patients to get suboxone — which is used to treat an opioid addiction — than it is to get opioids themselves, the availability of Narcan — used in cases of opioid overdose — for first responders in the county, and money.

Dr. Mason Tootell, the hospital’s only addiction specialist, said the idea of a warm handoff of care — in which the transfer of care from one professional to another takes place in front of the patient — is an excellent idea. But, as he is the only addiction specialist, it will be a difficult idea to put in place without more staff.

Tootell also said there are practitioners who make it easy to get opioids and difficult to get substances like suboxone that are used to treat the addiction.

Sheriff Ken Klakamp responded to a question about the availability of Narcan for responders. The man who asked the question said some people do not like to carry it, some pharmacists do not like to stock it, and some counties are having difficulty providing it.

First Church of the Nazarene Associate Pastor of Youth and Families Jonathan Keefer asked Shapiro about the role of faith community. Shapiro encouraged participation, any efforts by the “the faith community, the churches and synagogues.”

State Rep. Kathy Rapp and State Sen. Scott Hutchinson attended the meeting and fielded a question about whether funding would be made available to public defenders’ offices.

Warren County Chief Public Defender John Parroccini said the increased funding and efforts on the law enforcement side of the epidemic would mean increased funding for his office. He said Pennsylvania is the only state that does not help fund public defenders’ offices. Rapp said she was not aware of any action in any committee that would change that.

In a Jan. 10 release about the emergency declaration, Shapiro said, “Governor Wolf’s statewide disaster declaration on the heroin and opioid epidemic is an important step for Pennsylvanians as we confront the number 1 public health and public safety crisis facing our Commonwealth.”

“This crisis has been my top priority since I took office last January,” he said in the release on his website. “The Office of Attorney General arrests on average more than four drug dealers a day. Our arrests of medical personnel and others for illegally diverting prescription drugs are up 72 percent. Our national investigation with 41 Attorneys General of the pharmaceutical industry and the opioid painkillers fueling this epidemic is ongoing and active.”

“But as we continue losing more Pennsylvanians to overdoses, it’s clear we must do more,” he said. “Governor Wolf’s disaster declaration will enable state agencies to waive regulations, lowering barriers to treatment. It will create a coordinated response within PEMA to allow agencies to take a more unified approach to the epidemic. These steps are in addition to earlier actions by the governor in launching the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, providing funding to implement Centers of Excellence for treatment, and providing law enforcement and first responders with naloxone.”