Montco Grand Jury Issues Recommendations to Curb County’s Opioid Epidemic

There were 249 fatal overdoses reported in Montgomery County in 2016.

Photo illustration by Joe Trinacria.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele has released the findings of a comprehensive report authored by a 23-person grand jury tasked with investigating what he calls one of the most pressing public safety issues of our time: the opioid epidemic.

The report, made public on Wednesday, includes six recommendations – or “solutions [that] come from all sides of the political spectrum, because this issue knows no politics,” according to the DA’s office. The grand jury reviewed evidence and testimony pertaining to the epidemic over a 13-month period starting in April 2016.

“The grand jury heard testimony from one witness who characterized the opioid epidemic as the largest public health crisis since the AIDS epidemic,” Steele said. “It’s an epidemic that threatens the lives and safety of the entire Montgomery County community, and we must take swift and decisive action if we hope to slow the epidemic.”

The grand jury’s recommendations to the district attorney’s office were:

  • A statewide online system to identify treatment-bed availability

    “We heard repeated testimony regarding the lack of bed availability for those who are seeking treatment, and the difficulty of identifying treatment facilities that have treatment-bed availability.”

  • The establishment of treatment protocols

    “We believe the Warm Handoff program is a critical and necessary initiative that must be fully implemented in all of our Montgomery County hospitals and emergency centers.”

  • Mandatory minimum sentences for heroin dealers, traffickers, and/or suppliers

    “The implementation of mandatory minimum sentences for those who traffic, supply, and deal in substantial amounts of controlled substances — like heroin, Fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids — would send a strong message to these criminals.”

  • Increased collaboration and better data collection with our regional partners

    “It is recommended that a regional task force be formed — in addition to the more localized county task force already in existence — consisting of public health, public safety, and private corporation stakeholders.”

  • Pre-arrest drug court for young offenders at the Magisterial District Court

    “We have learned that early intervention and support for young offenders could save lives ….”

  • Collaboration with Pennsylvania Medical Society and insurance industry

    “It is recommended that a representative from the Pennsylvania and/or Montgomery County Medical Society, as well as a representative from the insurance industry, be invited to join the Montgomery County Overdose Task Force.”

There were a total of 249 overdose deaths in Montgomery County last year. In closing the report, the grand jury wrote, “Only by doing all of these things, with strategies that cross political fault lines, will we have a chance at success. We have no other choice. We have to act. And we have to act now.”

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