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Benninghoff, Wolf talk heroin epidemic in Pennsylvania

“These are not inner city. These are suburbanites. This is a unilateral, non-socioeconomic, non-gender issue,” state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff said of opiate addicts in the state.
“These are not inner city. These are suburbanites. This is a unilateral, non-socioeconomic, non-gender issue,” state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff said of opiate addicts in the state. Centre Daily Times, file

Pennsylvania politicians continue to debate what to do about the state’s drug problem, and both parties are tackling the issue.

On Thursday, state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, hosted a hearing in Kingston, looking into what measures are being used to address addiction and what tools are still needed.

“The fastest growing group of opiates addicts are in their 40s and 50s,” Benninghoff said. “These are not inner city. These are suburbanites. This is a unilateral, non-socioeconomic, non-gender issue.”

There are the problems of addiction, he said. With many users starting their journey toward illegal drugs with perfectly legal prescription meds acquired with legitimate reasons, it is a problem that can affect anyone.

“I think we need better monitoring of how we are prescribing medications and finding better alternatives than just opioid based pain meds,” Benninghoff said.

But that’s only half the problem. The other is treatment, and testimony from people like prosecutors, police, treatment professionals and addicts, said that could be hard to come by.

“We’d like to look at the preventive part. One of the things I was still very frustrated to hear is that we just lack facilities, bed space, to send people to for help. That’s something that’s a problem all across Pennsylvania,” Benninghoff said.

Gov. Tom Wolf agreed with that in a different address Thursday. He deplored the lack of facilities and pointed to more than $34 million in funding requested in his budget to help. A federal match would mean $50 million in new opportunities.

“We’re actually going to create an environment where you can get treatment and we can address the issues that affect you on a continuing basis,” he said. “It’s time is long overdue.”

Benninghoff wants to see more information gathered and more action.

“We’ve got to strike a balance,” he said. “This won’t be the last one of these hearings. It’s got to be a comprehensive effort. ... I don’t think this is an issue just the legislature is going to fix. There is a lot of communication that needs to go on.”

Benninghoff was Centre County coroner before entering the General Assembly. He says there are more tools at law enforcement and medical disposal now than then, but more is needed.

“Last year alone, there were 3,200 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania, and that’s not even a complete listing yet. We’re averaging nine people a day. That’s up from seven a year ago. The increase is just alarming,” he said.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce

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