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Hearing Explores Impact of Opioid Epidemic in Rural Counties
With an increasing number of lives lost and families devastated by the heroin epidemic, communities in western Pennsylvania want the state’s continued financial and statutory support for their ongoing efforts against opioid addiction, was the message we received during a September 20 public hearing of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
I was pleased to co-host the hearing with Senator Gene Yaw (R-23), Chairman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors. Senators Scott Hutchinson (R-21) and Pat Stefano (R-32) were also panelists for the public hearing.
Once believed to be an “urban problem,” heroin and opioid abuse has taken root in Indiana, Armstrong and surrounding counties in recent years and the results have been widespread and devastating, several testifiers told the panel.
I believe this was a very informative meeting. We did not come up with a ‘silver bullet’ that will solve all of our problems, but there were some very interesting exchanges between testifiers and the panel. Our local speakers provided a well-rounded account of how heroin and opioids are impacting families and devastating our communities. They also made it clear that we aren’t surrendering to the problem. They are fighting back and they want the state to be a partner in those efforts.
Debbie Friday, the mother of a woman fighting heroin addiction, told the panel that she has not only dealt with numerous legal, financial and personal problems created by her daughter’s drug addiction, but now has assumed the responsibility of raising her four grandchildren. “I love being a grandma. It is such a blessing to me,” Friday told the panel. “But, because of my daughter’s heroin addiction, we can no longer be just grandparents to Isaiah, Madison, Xavier and Cameron. We are now in a parenting role.”
Indiana County Coroner Jerry Overman said his county recorded 10 substance abuse-related deaths in 2008 and has seen a steady increase in subsequent years. In 2015, the county recorded 36 substance abuse-related deaths, with a vast majority being related to opioids. So far in 2016, the county has recorded 20 substance abuse-related deaths. “There are 10 more pending and I’m sure all 10 are going to be opioid-related,” he said.
In some cases, the system is its own worst enemy, according to Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty, who said that placing an addict in a short-term detox program is insufficient. After completing that time, many go right back out “to the lifestyle.” They use the same amount of heroin as they did before drying out through detox and subsequently end up with an overdose. “Addicts want the most powerful high, even if it kills them,” he said.
Dougherty and Indiana County Chief Detective and Indiana County Drug Task Force Supervisor David Rostis said a profit-driven marketplace has created a local distribution system based out of Pittsburgh. Where a “stamp bag” of heroin might sell for $3 to $5 in Pittsburgh, it sells for $10 to $20 in the local region. Rostis said that unlike marijuana, where dealers are usually local residents, heroin is often distributed by “runners” from Pittsburgh. “Lock one up and the city sends another within days or hours,” he said.
Armstrong County District Magistrate J. Gary DeComo, a long-time local leader in the battle against substance abuse, said the incentive created by the profit margin is a major issue. “How are rural communities going to stop a heroin addict from going to the city and buying 10 stamp bags, five for personal use and five for sale?” DeComo asked. “Fifteen years ago when an individual was picked up with stamp bags of heroin, it was a big deal because we had a major dealer. Today, if an individual is picked up, that person is just an everyday user. We need to take a proactive approach because this is a problem that law enforcement cannot solve on its own.”
Randy Thomas and Daniel Christy of Citizens Ambulance Service said the increasing number of heroin and opioid-related overdose cases places additional strain on first responders, both physically and financially. “The cost for an EMS responder to simply ‘roll wheels’ easily exceeds $400,” Thomas said. “In addition, the cost incurred during the treatment of these patients continues to escalate. A recent response to an opioid overdose induced cardiac arrest resulted in over $500 of medical supplies being used in addition to the associated EMS personnel costs.”
In addition to detailing the growing prevalence of heroin and opioid abuse in rural communities, testifiers also provided insight on the various local efforts to address the problem.
Apollo Borough Mayor and Director of Residents Against Illicit Drugs (RAID) Jeffrey Held said the growing heroin epidemic has necessitated an increased police presence and a coordinated community effort to raise awareness about the perils of drug addiction. “Local people know their communities intimately and are the best ones to tackle change from within, but often are stifled by a lack of support from their county, state or federal governments,” Mayor Held said.
Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission Executive Director Kami Anderson, Alliance Medical Services Executive Director Pam Gehlmann and Spirit Life, Inc. Executive Director Louis Wagner, Jr. closed out the hearing by detailing the efforts by their agencies to provide comprehensive treatment and counseling for people battling with addiction issues.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The Center works with the legislature, educators, state and federal executive branch agencies, and national, statewide, regional and local organizations to maximize resources and strategies that can better serve Pennsylvania's nearly 3.5 million rural residents.
A July 2016 report from the Drug Enforcement Administration Philadelphia Field Division’s Intelligence Program indicated that more than 3,300 people died from an overdose in Pennsylvania in 2015. That same report cited a 23.4 percent increase in the total number of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania from 2014 to 2015. Information being collected this year point to a projected increase in overdose deaths for 2016.
Rayburn Township Groundbreaking Starts Water System Improvements
Congratulations Rayburn Township, Armstrong County, on the start of your public water project. This line extension will provide water service to approximately 180 homes and businesses. It's a project that wouldn't have gotten done without a lot of great teamwork!
The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, on which I serve as a member, approved a $4,968,405 million grant for the Rayburn Township Joint Municipal Authority for the project.
Rayburn Township will construct approximately 47,000 feet of eight-inch water line, a 200,000 gallon water storage tank, pump station and related fire hydrants. The project will provide water service to residents of Rayburn Township along portions of Iron Bridge Road, McMillen Road, Cownanshannock Road, Hayes Hollow Road, Anderson Creek Road, Sloan Hill Road, Mechling Road and the Route 28/66 areas in the township.
The project will significantly improve water service to Rayburn Township, providing better access to public water around the Route 28 bypass. Some residents, especially those living in the project area have some concerns about the reliability of their water supplies, particularly during the summer when some have seen their wells run dry. This PENNVEST grant helps ease the burden on ratepayers while allowing the authority to move forward with a much needed project that will provide these residents with a safe and reliable water supply.
Honoring a Local Hero in Clymer
It was an honor and privilege to participate in the Clymer Days Festival and bridge dedication for Sergeant Robert Pantall on September 25. Sergeant Pantall and his family deserve our eternal gratitude for their sacrifice. Representative Dave Reed and I were pleased to work for passage of the legislation necessary to bestow this honor. Thanks to the Clymer community for holding such an appropriate ceremony.
Online Service Provides Faster Businesses Tax Information
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue recently unveiled a new online service that allows businesses and tax professionals to access expanded tax account information easier and faster while improving efficiencies for businesses and the department.
Business taxpayers can use the department’s business tax system, e-TIDES, to request electronic delivery of their statement of account and receive a PDF in their e-TIDES account the next business day. More than 40 types of taxes including corporate net income, sales, use, employer withholding and other business taxes are available.
A video of the new service is available here.
The new electronic statement provides a summary of the taxpayer’s account including the three most recent tax periods that have been filed, non-filed tax periods, and tax periods with open liabilities, payments or credits, grouped by tax type. Additional sections show tax periods under appeal, unused restricted credits, and W2 annual reconciliation, if applicable. Detailed account information is below the summary.
Previously, taxpayers had to call or submit a written request for information. Revenue staff members would print and mail the document - which could be hundreds of pages long.
State Parole Agent Testing Open until November 30
The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole recently announced that the State Civil Service Commission (SCSC) will offer the Parole Agent 1 civil service exam to all interested applicants until November 30.
Applications are available on the State Civil Service Commission’s website at www.scsc.pa.gov or by contacting the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) Bureau of Human Resources at (717) 787.5699 extension 1322 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Individuals selected as a result of the examination process must successfully pass an extensive 10-year background investigation, fingerprinting requirement, drug screening, medical examination and psychological evaluation before appointment as a parole agent. Individuals must complete the intense eight-week Basic Training Academy in Elizabethtown. The starting salary for new agents is over $40,000 annually.
Touring Breeze Industrial in Tunnelton
I toured the Breeze Industrial (NORMA) manufacturing facility in Tunnelton, Indiana County, on September 1. This is home to 243 quality manufacturing jobs. It is an impressive facility and I appreciated Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin taking the time to visit.
Guidelines Released for Upcoming Tax Amnesty Program
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue recently released guidelines for an upcoming tax amnesty program for Pennsylvania residents.
Tax amnesty is not a forgiveness of debt, but rather a reduction in fines to encourage the payment of back taxes. Many of the tax dollars would otherwise go uncollected so this program is intended to bring in revenue that could have been lost by the state. The amnesty plan is projected to raise more than $100 million in new revenue.
The amnesty program period begins April 21 and ends on June 19, 2017. All taxes owed to the Commonwealth administered by the Department of Revenue are eligible. Taxes, interest and penalties collected under the International Fuel Tax Agreement owed to other states or provinces are not eligible.
For more information and complete program guidelines, click here.
DCNR Accepting Nominations for 2017 Trails Advisory Committee
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is accepting nominations for three open positions on the 2017 Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee.
The advisory committee is charged with implementing recommendations of the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan to develop a statewide land and water trail network to facilitate recreation, transportation, and healthy lifestyles.
The 20-member committee represents both motorized and non-motorized trail users and advises the commonwealth on the use of state and federal trail funding. DCNR is accepting nominations for three open positions on the committee representing the following user groups: water trail users; horseback riding; and member-at-large. Members will serve a three-year term starting Jan. 1, 2017.
All nominees must submit a cover letter and resume to RAemail@example.com by Oct. 28, 2016. For more information on the Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee, visit http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/brc/recreation/trails/patrailsadvisory/index.htm.
For more information on Pennsylvania’s 573 trails covering more than 11,000 miles in the state, visit www.explorePAtrails.com.
Labor Day Holiday Crashes Investigated by State Police
Eleven people were killed and 223 were injured in the 704 crashes investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) during the three-day Labor Day holiday weekend driving period, September 2-5.
Troopers cited 769 individuals for not wearing seat belts and issued citations to 198 motorists for not securing children in safety seats. Troopers also issued 11,341 speeding citations and arrested 590 operators for driving under the influence. Of the 704 crashes investigated by the PSP, 61 of those crashes, including four of the fatal crashes, were alcohol-related.
During last year’s four-day Labor Day holiday driving period, nine people died and 230 others were injured in 664 crashes to which state troopers responded.
The statistics cover only those crashes investigated by the PSP and do not include statistics on incidents to which other law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania responded.
Mark your calendar
Representatives Dave Reed and Cris Dush and I will co-host a Senior Expo on Thursday, October 20, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the S&T Bank Arena, White Township Recreation Complex, 497 East Pike Road, Indiana.
The expo will provide you with information regarding the following services: Health Care, Insurance, Nutrition and Exercise, Fire Safety, Financial Planning Benefit Programs, Personal Safety, and Health Screenings.
Flu shots will be available. Please note that a Prescription Drug Take Back is being held during the expo. Collection is anonymous. Please remove any personal information from containers. Accepted: Prescription/over the counter dosage medications, liquid medications, creams & ointments, nasal sprays, inhalers and pet meds.
The expo will also a feature a visit from the Veterans Outreach Van to provide information on programs and services available to veterans and their families.
For more information, contact my Indiana County District Office at (724) 357-0151.
286 Main Capitol