Policy Hearing: Opioids and Treatment Options

Lawmakers gather in Allentown to hear from those impacted by and trying to treat a raging opioid addiction crisis in Pennsylvania

ALLENTOWN, May 2 – The opioid crisis is a massive public health and public safety challenge in Pennsylvania, and as the legislature heads into the budget season, lawmakers held a hearing today to fully understand the evolving epidemic.

The hearing, “The Evolving Epidemic: Opioids and Treatment Options,” was hosted by Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee Chair Ryan Bizzarro and state Rep. Mike Schlossberg at the Cetronia Ambulance Corps.

“Lehigh County is in the top 10 Pennsylvania counties struggling with the opioid epidemic, and I’m committed to ensuring treatment is available to those who need it,” said Schlossberg. “We have the money, either provided through the opioid settlement or in our current coffers, to ensure robust treatment is available to those suffering from addiction. We need to address the opioid crisis so we can put a stop to the senseless deaths of thousands of Pennsylvanians every year.”

The opioid overdose death count for 2021 was 4,300 and that number is still rising as more data comes in. During the hearing, lawmakers heard testimony from people impacted by the opioid epidemic, health experts, addiction management specialists and law enforcement.

Testimony from law enforcement emphasized that simply locking people up is not the answer. Judge Douglas Reichley and Lehigh County drug treatment supervisor Cori Doughty both explained that the creation of drug treatment court is essential to addressing the crisis. Lawmakers learned that in 2018 23% of Americans aged 18 or older had been prescribed opioids.

Compelling testimony came from Rhonda Miller, whose son was prescribed Vicodin when he had his wisdom teeth removed at the age of 17, starting a horrendous addiction to opioids. Miller said that had physicians been able to prescribe Vivitrol, a drug used to treat opioid and alcohol dependence, her son might still be here.

“We have been working in the state House to introduce legislation such as the Kratom Consumer Protection Act that would make it illegal to prepare, manufacture or sell unsafe kratom products,” said Rep. Tina Davis, D-Bucks. “My sincerest condolences to all those who have lost loves ones to this terrible crisis. We must do everything we can in the legislature to address this and it’s because of stories like those we heard today that we are more prepared to do so.”

Lawmakers also heard from Dave Synnamon, manager of injury prevention at Allentown Health Bureau who said the best way to address addiction is through medically assisted treatment (MAT). MAT does not substitute one addiction for another. Rather, it allows participants to live normal lives as they recover. His and other testimony from experts present today outlined a path forward for funding the right programs to help treat addiction in Pennsylvania, particularly those of underserved populations.

“From Erie County to here in Lehigh County, we’re struggling with the rising death toll the opioid epidemic has had in our communities,” said Bizzarro. “I want to thank all those who participated today and anyone who is working hard to address this issue in their community. We must work in the legislature to allocate funds to treat and save our neighbors struggling with addiction.”

Information about this hearing, including written testimony and other Pa. House Democratic Policy Committee hearings, can be found at pahouse.com/policycommittee.