Sen. Bob Casey
Sen. Bob Casey

With heroin and prescription opioid abuse apparently skyrocketing in York County and across the state, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., supports a national bill that lays out a response strategy.

The Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act would require better training for practitioners who prescribe opiod drugs, as well as establish a National Opiod Death Registry. The registry would supply data in an easy-to-access format, allowing further study of what happened in particular cases, Casey said.

"It's really the kind of record-keeping that we assume is happening," but it's not, Casey said in a Thursday conference call with reporters.

The bill would also require mortality reports to be submitted for each person who dies while enrolled in an opiod treatment program.

Growing concerns: Pennsylvania has the third-highest rate of heroin abuse and the 14th-highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country, he said. The majority of drug overdose deaths in the state are from prescription drugs, Casey said.

"Too many people are falling victim to either prescription drug abuse or heroin abuse," he said.

So far this year, the York County Coroner's Office has recorded four confirmed fatal heroin overdoses and is waiting for toxicology reports on nine suspected heroin deaths.

That shows a spike from last year, when the office recorded 16 confirmed heroin-related deaths in the whole year and two more overdose deaths that were ruled "highly suspicious" for heroin.

A 2013 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicates that teens and adults who used prescription painkillers nonmedically were 19 times more likely to use heroin within the last year.

Four out of five new heroin users are individuals who had previously abused prescription painkillers, Casey said, and some people switch between the two based on what they can find or afford.

Bill support: The bill would also create a grant program for states and nonprofits to educate consumers on opioid abuse, as well as establish a Controlled Substances Clinical Standards Commission, which would develop safe dosing guidelines for all forms of methadone.

Casey couldn't provide a cost amount for the bill.

He said he does not have a sense of what opposition to the bill may be and that it's difficult to envision an argument against it, since it improves both awareness and collection of data.

"I think it's pretty reasonable legislation," he said. "It's not a big new program."

York County Coroner Pam Gay said that, through the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association, her office starting sending in detailed drug reports to the state in January.

She said that prescription drugs are the No. 1 problem — moreso than heroin — in regard to deaths. After learning briefly about the national bill, she said she thinks it sounds like a good idea.

"Some of this stuff is actually a no-brainer," Gay said.

Most of York's prescription drug deaths occur in users between their 20s and 50s, she said. They are real people — children and parents, she said.

"There's a face to all of them," Gay said.

— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com. Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo contributed to this report.