Casey on Pa. Overdose Epidemic: “We’re Leading in a Category We Don’t Want to Be Leading”

Why Pa. Senator Bob Casey is pushing for a pretty huge increase in anti-heroin funding.

Drug overdose deaths have rapidly increased in recent years and experts say this is due in large part to abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin addiction. The number of Americans who die annually from heroin addiction has increased by 244 percent since 2007. In 2013 alone overdoses from prescription pain medications killed more than 16,000 people. Drug overdose now exceeds car crashes as the No. 1 cause of injury-related death in the United States.

Pennsylvania has been hit hard by the rising epidemic. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,732 people in Pa. died of drug overdoses in 2014 and overdose deaths have increased by 12.9% in one year from 2013-2014. As Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey said in a conference call this morning, “We’re leading in a category we don’t want to be leading. Pennsylvania is third in the nation for heroin deaths.”

It is also striking that the rise in overdose deaths has a strong connection to opioid painkillers. In 2013, opioid painkillers caused 71.3% of prescription drug overdoses. A person who is addicted to painkillers is also 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin according to the National Institute of Health. The largest demographic of people who overdose on heroin has shifted from blacks to non-Hispanic whites.

There appears to be strong bipartisan support for The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) in Congress, which aims to provide states with more resources for prevention and recovery treatment. The bill would: expand evidence-based treatment services and medications; give local law enforcement and other first responders access to medicine that counters the effects of an overdose; improve prescription drug monitoring programs; increase access to medical treatment for incarcerated drug users; and expand preventative education.

The bill currently proposes up to $312 million over the 2016-2021 period but Senator Casey is helping to push an amendment that would increase the funding by $600 million. “We need to make sure that states have more resources, which they will not have if we pass CARA without this amendment. They don’t need the hot air of someone giving more speeches in Washington. They need dollars.” Casey emphasized that the local healthcare providers that deal with drug addiction and drug overdose know what treatments are effective, but they need financial support to provide that treatment.

When asked where the money will come from, Casey responded that they could find the money within existing appropriations adding, “Washington figures out a way to pay for a lot of things that are less important and more expensive.”