The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that drug overdose deaths hit record numbers in 2014, with more than 47,000 deaths nationwide. CDC has outlined steps for stopping the overdose death epidemic. Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis issued the following statement in response:
Like the rest of the nation, Pennsylvania is in the throes of the worst overdose death epidemic ever. In 2014, nearly 2,500 Pennsylvanians died from a drug overdose. With one in four families in the Commonwealth suffering with the disease of addiction, Pennsylvania, at the direction of Governor Tom Wolf, has made addressing this epidemic a priority. The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs is working hard with its partners in the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services and other agencies to execute a plan to stem the rising tide of overdose deaths.
We have become a nation awash in prescription opioids due to the historic and ill-fated medical movement toward overprescribing for pain over the past two decades. Opioid prescribing has quadrupled, and today four out of five individuals with heroin addiction start out with prescription opioids. Our initiatives therefore focus largely on prescription opioids, as well as preventing overdose deaths and expanding access to clinically appropriate treatment.
“The record level of opioid overdose deaths around the country and here in Pennsylvania is tragic,” said Department of Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy. “My department is working expeditiously to address this crisis on all fronts. Our primary goal is to work at prevention as well as providing treatment for those in need.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is leading an effort to build upon the prescribing guidelines already created, including guidelines to address emergency department pain treatment with opioids, opioids in dental practice and opioids to treat chronic non-cancer pain. These guidelines give healthcare providers direction for safe and effective pain relief practices, with greater emphasis on non-opioid therapies and greater caution to prevent addiction and diversion.