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DEA pilot program planned for Western Pa. to target opiate abuse |

DEA pilot program planned for Western Pa. to target opiate abuse

| Saturday, November 7, 2015 7:50 p.m

The Drug Enforcement Administration plans to announce a new program Tuesday targeting heroin and opioid abuse in Western Pennsylvania.

The pilot program, which the DEA says is the first of its kind in the nation, will target drug-related crime while working with health care and social service agencies on long-term solutions, DEA spokesman Patrick Trainor said.

The administration is starting the program in Pittsburgh because heroin and drug overdoses have increased significantly in the area in recent years.

“Heroin and pill overdoses are through the roof, and it’s making us in law enforcement look at some different approaches,” Trainor said.

In Pennsylvania, 47 people died in 2009 as the result of a heroin or opioid overdose; five years later, more than 800 people died.

The epidemic has drawn the attention of Congress.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Scranton Democrat, supports two bills: the Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act, or TREAT Act, and the Treatment and Recovery Act. He has said the bills would increase the number of health care providers who can treat addicts and increase funding for prevention and treatment programs.

At a Senate subcommittee field hearing, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey — a Lehigh Valley Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care — called for halting illegal diversion of prescription painkillers, reducing overuse of opioids for treating long-term pain and helping addicts receive proper treatment. He introduced legislation to prevent inappropriate access to opioids.

With overdose deaths nearing 300 last year in Allegheny County and quadrupling over the past three years in Washington and Westmoreland counties, U.S. Attorney David Hickton in Pittsburgh has declared it “a public health crisis.” Hickton chairs the National Heroin Task Force and assembled the U.S. Attorney’s Working Group on Addiction to improve prevention and treatment.

It is unclear how the DEA’s pilot program would affect existing prevention and enforcement efforts. Trainor declined to say before Tuesday how much funding will be dedicated to the program or what changes could be coming to the DEA’s Pittsburgh office.

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