Is Pennsylvania dealing with a prescription drug abuse crisis?
U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) thinks so. He rallied support Wednesday for a bill aimed at stopping the abuse.
According to Casey, Pennsylvania is third in the country for heroin use. What does that have to do with the prescription drug bill?
"We know, for example, that in the U.S. four out of five heroin users had abused prescription pain killers - four out of five -which demonstrates the direct connection," Casey said.
The bill will give grants for continued training, education and awareness for both medical professionals and every day people.
Midstate leaders say that is exactly what needs to be done.
"The answer to drug problems, the answer to addictions, is not just enforcement," Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said. "We will do our job. We will lock up the big dealers and take care of them. But that's not gonna stop it. It has to come from education. It has to come from prevention."
The bill would also broaden the ability to track prescriptions. Right now, only law enforcement can access a prescription drug monitoring database. Casey would like to add doctors and pharmacists and he would also like all states to share prescription information.
"Data entered in one state isn't often reflected in another, so when a pharmacist is presented with a prescription for pain killers, they don't know that same person may have gotten that same prescription in another state," Casey said.
"That would be a great advantage to us, and he hit the nail on the head," Stedman said. "We can only do so much at the local level of enforcement."
Not everyone agrees. Andy Hoover, legislative director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania says government collection of prescription drug data undermines Pennsylvanians' health care privacy rights.
"The overwhelming majority of patients do not abuse their medications, but all patients lose their medical privacy under these bills," Hoover said in a statement. "Every bill on this issue in the state General Assembly has treated prescription records with a low standard of privacy protection."
"Senator Casey talks about treatment for people who are addicted, but he's standing with law enforcement. If this is a public health issue, he should be standing with doctors and treatment specialists, not district attorneys."
"It's time to move past the "prosecute and incarcerate" mentality on drug addiction," Hoover said. "We hope that Senator Casey agrees that it is time to treat addiction as a public health issue and to emphasize access to treatment. Pennsylvania cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem."
The FDA would also be required to review the status of naloxone, a drug that can reverse a heroin overdose, as a prescription drug and consider whether or not it would be appropriate to make it available behind-the-counter but without a prescription.
For more information on the bill, visit www.casey.senate.gov.