Attorney general addresses tackling opioids after drug busts

Josh Shapiro is serious about addressing the opioid crisis.

The new Pennsylvania attorney general is the latest official to take a tough stance on the drug problem that is sweeping the state and the nation.

On Thursday, he held a press conference to announce a major bust in Philadelphia. He stood in front of a blue-draped table where the haul of seized evidence was laid out. It included 125 grams of heroin.

Is that a lot? Depends on how you measure it. On the one hand, 125 grams is about 4.4 ounces —a little more than a half cup by volume, a little more than a quarter-pound by weight.

Measure it by the number of people it could affect, and Shapiro says it’s a lot more.

“To put that in perspective, 125 grams could have yielded 4,166 doses that could have been spread across Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said.

He said the arrest was also tied to an investigation in the Altoona-Johnstown area that took another $100,000 worth of heroin, plus cocaine and cash, out of circulation. That was another 10,000 doses.

“It only takes one dose to kill,” Shapiro said. “We are losing too many lives in Pennsylvania.”

In 2015, the Pennsylvania State Coroner’s Association reported 3,505 overdose deaths statewide, a 40 percent increase from 2014. Of those, 30 percent came from illegal drugs and 28 percent from opioids.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this crisis,” Shapiro said. “We have to be merciless with dealers and have compassion for the nonviolent suffers of the effects of addiction.”

The attorney general wants to see the state work more with doctors and insurance companies to address overprescription of opioids and deal with pharmaceutical companies that he said may use deceptive marketing practices to put opioids in play and “must be held accountable.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce