What officials describe as a growing heroin epidemic in rural Pennsylvania took center stage at a public hearing in Reading on Tuesday.
The gathering at Reading Area Community College was the second of four such hearings being held across the state by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
"Specifically, we're looking at legislative initiatives. What can we do as state senators or state representatives through laws or through funding to help counteract this problem," said Pennsylvania Senator Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, who served as co-cost of the hearing in Reading.
Schwank said her role in addressing the heroin epidemic stems from several overdose deaths in the Topton and Kutztown area of northern Berks County earlier this year.
"As a result of that and my further research and working with our communities on it, I talked with Senator [Gene] Yaw [chairman of the center's board] about the possibility of having statewide hearings on this issue because I felt very certain this isn't just a problem in Berks County, it's a problem throughout Pennsylvania."
The center's board heard testimony on the increased use of heroin and other opioids from service providers who treat addiction, law enforcement officials and judges, medical personnel, educators and parents of children who have been addicted.
"We have a whole spectrum of people that have an interest in the issue and might be part of solving the problem for us, or helping to solve the problem," Schwank said.
Individuals invited to address the hearing in Reading were:
- Gary Tennis, secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs
- Deborah Beck, president, Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania
- Phil Bauer, advocate for prescription drug safety (parent)
- Linda Texter, director, Reading Hospital Drug and Alcohol Center
- George Vogel, executive director, Council on Chemical Abuse
- Christine Gilfillan, associate director, Berks Women in Crisis
- Sandy Green, mayor, Kutztown
- Andrew Potteiger, superintendent, Brandywine Heights Area School District
- Alison Snyder, personnel director, East Penn Manufacturing
- Dr. Gregory Sorensen, chief medical officer, Reading Health System
- John Adams, Berks County district attorney
- Michael Gombar, Berks County chief county detective
- Christine Holman, Schuylkill County district attorney
- Scott Keller, judge, Court of Common Pleas, Berks County
- Dean Patton, magisterial district judge, Berks County
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania cites statistics that show the number of fatal heroin overdoses are on the rise across the state.
According to a 2014 report from the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association, 45 heroin deaths were reported in 2009 and 124 were reported by mid-2013.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania's first hearing was held in Williamsport on July 9. The next two hearings will be held in Loretto, Cambria County, on Tues., Aug. 5 and in Clarion, Clarion County, on Tues., Aug. 19.