Prescription pill abuse is a national epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, state officials are saying the epidemic is hitting home in Pennsylvania.
They say the pill popping is plaguing the streets of the capital city and even the hills of Schuylkill County that are arguably the problem's epicenter.
Schuylkill County officials won't go as for as to say their area is the epicenter of the issue, but Schuylkill County Assistant District Attorney Doug Taglieri will say prescription pill abuse is a major problem. Taglieri is also the director of the county's Drug Task Force.
“It's significant, it's an issue and we deal with it all the time,” Taglieri said of prescription drug abuse.
He said his office sees it all, from unlawful use, distribution, even addicts committing crimes to get pills.
Somewhat recently, Taglieri said one man was taken into custody after trying to pass a forged prescription at a pharmacy, but a police officer was inside.
And prescription pill abuse in Pennsylvania goes beyond Schuylkill County. Officials say the numbers in central Pennsylvania are staggering numbers, too.
“It's something that's exploded,” Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said.
Marsico said Dauphin County has seen an uptick in the past several years. The startling thing here is the use and abuse by children and teenagers.
Gary Tennis, secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, can speak to the statewide issue. He said the situation is so bad, it's a commonwealth epidemic.
Tennis told us 4.2 percent of Pennsylvanians are abusing prescription drugs. Some federal reports also indicate that Pennsylvania is among a group of states with some of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the county.
According to federal health reports, prescription drugs play a large role.
Tennis took his post at Drug and Alcohol Programs, a new department, last year after he was appointed by Governor Tom Corbett. The department's goal is to help Pennsylvanians struggling with addiction.
Reducing prescription drug abuse is near the top of the agency's to-do list.
Doing that, Tennis said, will require some help from the legislature. He hopes they will pass a new pill bill that would monitor those who “doc shop” to get prescription medication. Under the bill, health care professionals would be able to look up what drugs patients have received.
A statute like this is already in place, but Tennis hopes to increase doctor communication and monitoring.
Tennis admits that reducing the problem will take a multi-faceted approach. He says working with health care professionals is a big part of the solution, too.
“[We need] better physician training both in terms of prescribing practices and in terms of spotting addiction,” Tennis said.
While the problem is an epidemic in Pennsylvania, Tennis is optimistic that the he can help break the state's prescription pill addiction.
“This problem is unnecessary. With the right kind of response, we can really get this problem under control. We really can reduce prescription drug abuse. We know we can drive this problem down,” Tennis said.
Officials also say awareness is also key.
We also found out the District Attorney's Association is working with pharmaceutical companies to come up with some reduction solutions.