Opioid epidemic topic of candidates

Fayette, Westmoreland see high number of confirmed overdoses


With the 2016 presidential election less than two weeks away, the United States’ current opioid epidemic has been a topic of discussion.

Currently, Fayette County has experienced around 30 confirmed drug overdose deaths in 2016, while Westmoreland County has recorded 87 confirmed drug overdoses with 28 pending. At this rate, both county’s will eclipse last year’s numbers.

Because of Pennsylvania’s status as a battleground state, representatives from both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have addressed this issue in policy discussions.

Anne Holton, a former chief judge and education secretary in Virginia and the wife of Democratic vice-presidental nominee Tim Kaine, said that the opioid crisis has reached critical levels.

“It’s a crisis,” she said. “We all got to dig in and address it. We have opportunities to make strides with more effective prescription drug and treatment programs.”

Holton referenced Clinton’s plan to create a $7.5 billion fund to combat addiction. The plan, hosted on Clinton’s campaign website, says that a Clinton White House will “launch a $7.5 billion fund to support new federal-state partnerships over 10 years, through which stakeholders will come together to prevent and treat addiction.”

Holton also criticized Trump’s plan to battle opioid abuse.

“They have no plan,” she said. “Hillary has put out a serious plan to attack the opioid crisis. I love that she’s a serious person with serious proposals. There are ways we can step up to the plate. Hillary is talking about it. The other side isn’t serious about pretty much anything.”

Representatives from Donald Trump’s campaign did not respond to e-mails requesting comment on the opioid crisis. During an Oct. 15 speech in Portsmouth, N.H., Trump said his plans to build a wall along the Mexican border “will also keep out the drugs and heroin that’s poisoning our youth.”

Trump’s prepared remarks for that Oct. 15 rally, hosted on Trump’s website, reference Christopher Honor and Courtney Griffin, “a young Rockingham County couple who died of an overdose within a year of each other.”

“Their story of prescription drugs, heroin, wait times for treatment, and missed opportunity in the court system are a tragic reminder of why we need a plan to end the opioid epidemic,” the remarks read. “First, we will stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country. The number of heroin seizures on the border has tripled since 2008.”

On the local level, local officials are calling for cooperation from both sides of the aisle to defeat the heroin epidemic. State Sen. Pat Stefano has taken part in several opioid-related events, the most recent being a Oct. 17 tele-townhall.

“Working together, we need to find ways to battle this growing public health crisis,” Stefano said prior to the event. “This tele-townhall offers residents in my district a chance to join in the conversation about this crisis facing our Commonwealth.”

State Rep. Ryan Warner told The Daily Courier that everyone must work together to defeat drug abuse and overdoses.

“I don’t believe that this is a Republican of Democrat issue. I agree with a lot of the recommendations from the governor’s office,” Warner said. “My personal take from it is the first thing we need to do is cut off the source. We need to reduce the supply of painkillers. We must reduce the pills in the area by monitoring who is getting what pills.”

Warner said that he believes the majority of heroin addictions start with prescription painkillers.

“You have people that a being prescribed these pills legally. Some are overprescribed. It’s also easier for kids to pick this stuff up off the streets,” he said. “There’s not the stigma to take a legal pill verses shooting yourself up with heroin.

“It’s definitely an uphill battle. We have to secure the borders. If we can’t stop illegal people from coming into the country, we don’t have a chance of stopping illegal drugs coming into our county.”

Tony Sonita is a Daily Courier staff writer. He can be reached at 724-628-2000, ext. 111, or at tsonita@dailycourier.com.