Senate Dems introduce legislation to combat opioid epidemic

Katherine Ranzenberger

In 2014, 2,732 Pennsylvanians died from a drug-related overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

York City drug detectives said they seized heroin, cocaine and stolen guns from the home of James Romine Johnson on Feb. 19, 2016.

State Senate Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday that they think should help lower that number. The plan includes education, prevention and recovery.

“Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate, and there is no easy solution to fix the problem,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said in a news release. “When addiction finds its way into a family, it can nearly paralyze them for fear of what the future may hold.”

The legislation comes a week after Gov. Tom Wolf visited York for a roundtable discussion about how to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic that's plagued Pennsylvania. Last year, 65 people died in York County from heroin overdoses.

Gov. Wolf discusses how to tackle heroin, opioid issues

The package of legislation includes an emergency addiction treatment program, a program to educate school-aged children about opioids and an opioid addiction prevention and treatment assessment. It would also create an addiction treatment professional loan forgiveness program, which would allow for those in the addiction treatment field to have their student loans "forgiven" after a certain period of time. Similar programs are in place for other professional fields like public works and teachers, basically erasing the loans after 10 years.

"We are in the midst of the worst ever overdose death epidemic and the worst public health crisis of the last 100 years," Gary Tennis, secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said in a news release.  “It will continue to take a collaborative effort among many partners to effectively address this crisis."


About one in four families in Pennsylvania is affected by addiction. According to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study, fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania increased 14 times between 1979 and 2014.

The study states the highest accidental overdose rates were found in counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, those surrounding Philadelphia and those in northeast Pennsylvania, near Scranton. The largest increases in accidental overdoses were found in those age 35 to 44, females and white adults.

Already, law enforcement agencies have started to help with the epidemic, carrying naloxone. Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is an overdose reversal drug. All 23 police departments across York County started carrying naloxone kits in April 2015.

Kyle King, chief administrator in the York County District Attorney's Office, said there have been 70 saves using naloxone from January through the end of April this year. Last year, there were 102 saves in the eight months of use.

"Obviously the numbers are trending up," King said. "The problem tends to get worse before it gets better. But it's also a credit to our law enforcement. We're one of the few counties where every officer carries it."

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.