HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — When it comes to overdoses and addiction, the pandemic made a bad situation even worse. A hearing at Pennsylvania’s state capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 16, laid out strategies to battle the ongoing problem.
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Reducing harm to citizens and fighting addiction was the big focus. One example? Legalizing fentanyl test strips, which is controversial to some but life saving to others.
Secretary Jennifer Smith from Pennsylvania’s Drug and Alcohol Program testified Wednesday morning during a public hearing telling legislators it is an addiction crisis rather than an opioid crisis.
Smith says prior to the pandemic, overdose deaths lowered by 18% before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In 2020 we saw those numbers climb again with the loss of over 5,000 Pennsylvanians,” Smith added.
According to Attorney General Josh Shapiro, five of the top nine counties across the state with the highest rates of overdose deaths were rural communities.
“Every time I am in rural communities I hear over and over and over again how hard it is to access treatment,” AG Shapiro said.
The overdose reversal drug naloxone became readily available in 2016. Now, the rural group and its law making supporters want the legalization of other tools that could possibly prevent an overdose, with fentanyl still being a major killer.
“We unfortunately don’t have the ability to test for the presence of fentanyl in Pennsylvania,” Nathan Harig, Cumberland Goodwill EMS, said.
Local EMS Chief Nathan Harig says fentanyl test strips would not only reduce the death rate but help officials figure out what drug is causing spikes across the state, too.
Joshua Schneider, Pittsburgh overdose prevention coordinator, reminded lawmakers there is also a bill that would help.
“Senate Bill 845 from Senator Carney and House Bill 1393 from Rep. Struzzi, both piece of legislation that would legalize fentanyl test strips,” Schneider said.