HARRISBURG – Nearly 20,000 households took part across 14 northeastern Pennsylvania counties yesterday for a Telephone Town Hall meeting hosted by area legislators to discuss the heroin and opioid epidemic in the region.
Moderated by Pennsylvania State Senator Gene Yaw (R-23), the town hall meeting was sponsored in part by area legislators Senator David Argall (R-29), Senator Lisa Baker (R-20), Senator John Gordner (R-27) and Senator Mario Scavello (R-40).
The discussion included a panel of experts who answered questions about heroin and opioid addiction. They included Barry Denk, Director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a bipartisan, bicameral legislative research agency of the General Assembly that has facilitated 11 public hearings across the state on the heroin epidemic; Lackawanna County District Attorney Shane Scanlon, who has implemented a number of measures county-wide to combat the sale and distribution of heroin and opioids and prosecute those who deal these narcotics; as well as Andrew Sullivan, Former President& CEO of Mazzitti & Sullivan, a Harrisburg-based counseling service providing individualized treatment for addiction.
The panel fielded questions from listeners and discussed wide-ranging topics that included improving opioid prescribing practices for doctors and dispensers, expanding access to treatment and addiction services, working with law enforcement to disrupt the heroin supply, and increasing the use of medications, such as naloxone. Callers also voiced concerns that included stopping the flow of drugs from Mexico and the limitation on prescriptions for individuals who are not presently abusing medications, and who are worried that their allocation will be decreased due to state mandates.
“Legislators, law enforcement officials, public health agencies and educators are working to combat drug availability, improve drug treatment and promote drug education, but they need help and feedback,” Yaw said. “These town halls provide a unique opportunity for state residents to join in the conversation about this Commonwealth crisis and offer suggestions on how best to address the growing epidemic.”
“As a professional who has dedicated 42 years in the field of substance use disorders and addiction treatment, the message that Senator Yaw and his fellow senators bring to their communities regarding the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic is of the utmost importance at this time,” said Andrew Sullivan. “Educating our communities that there are actions being taken to address the epidemic, drawing all the services together, law enforcement, treatment providers, medical professionals, faith based organizations, and all stakeholders will lead to de-stigmatizing this medical disorder.”
The event is part of a legislative effort to gather information on how the growing epidemic is affecting Pennsylvania and what can be done to save lives and battle addiction. It is the first of five “tele-town halls” scheduled around the state in the coming months, with subsequent tele-town halls in the Southwest, Southeast, South Central and Northwest and North Central regions of Pennsylvania. The tele-town hall format allows state residents to listen in, offer opinions, and even ask questions from their own home.
The next telephone town hall will be held on October 17, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and will focus on southwestern Pennsylvania.
Interested individuals can sign up ahead of time at www.acommonwealthcrisis.com to receive a phone call a few moments before the town hall meeting begins. Individuals can also sign up by texting the keyword “talkheroin” to the number 828282. Audio streaming for the tele-town hall will also be available