Vil­lanova Law hosts pol­icy fo­rum on drug epi­demic

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Kevin Tustin ktustin@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @Kev­inTustin on Twit­ter

RAD­NOR>> Bet­ter fund­ing of pro­grams and bet­ter treat­ment op­tions in and out of state cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties are needed to help a grow­ing drug prob­lem, par­tic­u­larly opi­oids, in the com­mon­wealth, said state lead­ers and schol­ars Fri­day morn­ing.

The need for bet­ter laws and pro­ce­dures in com­bat­ing a drug prob­lem that has killed at least 3,500 Penn­syl­va­ni­ans last year was one topic of dis­cus­sion at an all­day fo­rum called “Un­der­stand­ing the Opi­oid Epi­demic” at Vil­lanova Univer­sity’s Charles Widger School of Law, fo­cus­ing on all as­pects of the drug prob­lem through the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

One panel said pol­icy and leg­isla­tive ac­tion will fix a sys­tem that “over­pun­ishes” ad­dicts in­stead of help­ing them.

“Our ap­proach to drug pol­icy over the past four decades has ba­si­cally been lock peo­ple up,” said Sec­re­tary for Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Corrections John Wet­zel. “And when the drug prob­lem gets greater, lock more peo­ple up for longer. The re­sult of that has been an in­crease in prison and jail pop­u­la­tion in the state and through­out the coun­try.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wet­zel, the num­ber of crim­i­nals who are sent to state in­sti­tu­tions with a drug prob­lem has dou­bled in the last few years from 6 to 12 per­cent of 50,000 per­sons.

Corrections is the third big­gest por­tion of the state’s an­nual bud­get at $2.4 bil­lion, and Wet­zel called it ironic that while corrections gets more fund­ing year-over-year, more ser­vices in other bud­get sec­tions would lead to a re­duc­tion in the prison pop­u­la­tion.

“But again, be­cause drugs are il­le­gal, we have one lens, and that’s the lens of ar­rest peo­ple and put them in a sys­tem that has, his­tor­i­cally, been ill­pre­pared to re­spond to ad­dic­tion,” said Wet­zel.

Wet­zel did say that treat­ment ser­vices are avail­able in state in­sti­tu­tions.

In ad­di­tion to that, a pi­lot study is cur­rently un­der­way in a hand­ful of State Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tutes, in­clud­ing Chester, for Med­i­ca­tion As­sisted Treat­ment, a phar­ma­co­log­i­cal and be­hav­ior ther­apy pro­gram to help over­come chal­lenges of ad­dic­tion.

Methadone and Nal­trex­one – a 30-day opi­oid an­tag­o­nist - are two types of drugs that are used in MAT pro­grams.

“(It of­fers in­mates) the abil­ity to avoid some of the stresses and pit­falls as­soci-

ated with re­turn­ing to the sit­u­a­tions that got them in trouble in the first place,” said Drexel Univer­sity As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor Jordan Hyatt, PhD.

Hyatt ref­er­enced a study say­ing in­mates in long-term methadone treat­ment have lower rates of com­mit­ting crimes, and 65 per­cent of in­mates re­lapsed with only be­hav­ioral coun­sel­ing over 25 per­cent who also re­ceived methadone.

In Penn­syl­va­nia’s State Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tutes, in­mates in the pi­lot study would be get­ting an in­jec­tion of Nal­trex­one.

For civil­ians look­ing to seek help for their ad­dic­tion, Gov. Tom Wolf an­nounced the open­ing of 45 Cen­ters for Ex­cel­lence statewide by Jan. 1, which pro­vides treat­ment and re­sources for peo­ple with opi­oid-re­lated sub­stance abuse.

Crozer Chester Med­i­cal

Cen­ter has been named one of the cen­ters.

In an­other way to curb the opi­oid prob­lem, Penn­syl­va­nia re­cently be­came one of the last states to ini­ti­ate a pre­scrip­tion drug mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram to track all pre­scribed con­trolled sub­stances and pre­vent abuse of those drugs, es­pe­cially opi­oids.

Fur­ther­more, a bill was signed into law two years ago by then-Gov. Tom Cor­bett to al­low the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the opi­oid re­ver­sal drug Nalox­one by po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers. Delaware County was the first in the state to have a po­lice of­fi­cer save a life with the drug.

Over the course of the summer the PA HOPE – heroin, opi­oid pre­ven­tion and ed­u­ca­tion – Cau­cus held pol­icy hear­ings all over the state for law­mak­ers to be bet­ter ed­u­cated on how big the prob­lem is.

Still, state Rep. Joanna McClin­ton, D-191, of Philadel­phia, said she has heard crit­i­cism that the state Leg­is­la­ture

shouldn’t have to re­spond and “should be on top of it.”

“But we’re in this cri­sis just like the rest of our neigh­bors,” she said. “We’re all fac­ing this cri­sis at this time where the alarm is sound­ing, so we’re all re­spond­ing.

“This is one of (the times) where we have to pause and re­ally take a mo­ment and ex­am­ine to make sure that our re­sponse thus far has been ef­fec­tive and what we can do in the fu­ture to en­sure that we can cur­tail these deaths, these over­doses.”

When the House re­turns to ses­sion on Monday, 13 bills leg­is­lat­ing dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the opi­oid epi­demic are sill wait­ing to be con­sid­ered. A rally in the cap­i­tal ro­tunda with law­mak­ers on this is­sue is set for Tues­day.

“We’re do­ing some­thing about this and we’re hear­ing how crit­i­cal of an hour we’re in and we’re re­spond­ing to it ac­cord­ingly,” said McClin­ton.


A packed class­room at Vil­lanova Univer­sity’s Charles Widger School of Law dur­ing Fri­day’s pol­icy fo­rum “Un­der­stand­ing the Opi­oid Epi­demic.” Through­out the day, pan­els dis­cussed all as­pects of the drug prob­lem within the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

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