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HARRISBURG – Over 19,000 households took part across 14 southwestern Pennsylvania counties Monday, October 17, 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 John Eichelberger (R-30), Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46), Senator Elder Vogel (R-47), Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-38), Senator Guy Reschenthaler (R-37), Senator Kim Ward (R-39) and Senator Pat Stefano (R-32).

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; Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone II, who initiated the Drug Treatment Court in the county; as well as Dr. Nancy Falvo, Professor of Nursing at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

The panel fielded a number of questions from listeners and discussed wide-ranging topics that included the need for education and prevention efforts aimed at youth, accessing detox and treatment with limited or no insurance coverage, the overprescribing of pain medication leading to addiction, while providing needed pain medication for those living in chronic pain.

Callers also voiced concerns over the costs of Vivitrol, a “blocker” that attaches to certain opioid receptors in the brain prohibiting pleasurable feelings associated with opioids, as well as general comments about the use of Methadone.

Another topic discussed included the use of Naloxone, a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose.

“In order for people to receive treatment for their addiction, they have to be alive,” State Senator Gene Yaw said.  Yaw, who also serves as chairman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors, noted that heroin addiction has no municipal boundaries, and, in most cases, law enforcement is the first to arrive on the scene of an overdose. “I think it’s imperative that more of our law enforcement professionals be equipped with this life saving antidote.”

“With almost 20,000 callers connecting to the tele-town hall, this clearly shows that Pennsylvanians acknowledge the public health crisis of heroin and opioid addiction facing our Commonwealth,” said Barry Denk. “They are certainly looking for information and help.”

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 was the second of five “tele-town halls” scheduled around the state, with subsequent tele-town halls in the Southeast, South Central, 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 January 10, 2017, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and will focus on southeastern 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.