Heroin treatment funds failed to reach most in need

Credit: Ashley Chan/ Credit: Ashley Chan/

Pending the passing of a U.S. Senate-approved financial package which aims to combat opioid abuse nationwide, the federal government released $94 million in funding to care centers and hospitals nationwide. Pennsylvania’s piece of this pie amounts to $1.8 million.

In terms of impact, this funding could be huge; according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, this funding, spread out among Pennsylvania care centers, could allow each center to hire “one additional provider to identify and treat addiction,” and nationwide, this amounts to doctors being “able to see 124,000 more patients ... in addition to the 23 million already treated.”

However, none of this money will be going to the greater Pittsburgh area’s care centers.

Funding was administered on a competitive basis, and while all care centers nationwide were encouraged to apply, there has been no information as to whether Pittsburgh care centers applied, refrained from doing so, or if they were actively rejected.

Pittsburgh is in drastic need of this funding, given that this area has the second-highest heroin-related death rate in the state, with these numbers growing on a yearly basis. Whether or not the care centers applied for the funding, they should be receiving it.

Allocating funds for such a vital effort on a competative basis fails to account for the real world distribution of the effects of heroin in our state. If they simply did not request it, then it’s a matter of willful ignorance of a problem plaguing our county; if they were not awarded this funding, it’s a matter of administrative oversight and blatant neglect at the hands of the state. Either way, those responsible to the safety of Pittsburgh citizens failed to protect those in need of help and treatment.

In the past few years, deaths by drug overdoses have surpassed the number of deaths caused by and related to car accidents in Pennsylvania, and while this is largely attributed to prescription drug abuse, it’s in the same vein of addiction. According to a White House profile of the state, Pennsylvania drug-related deaths are higher than the national average, and heroin is cited as the number-one addiction for which treatment centers admit patients.

With drug-related deaths increasing yearly, and Pennsylvania
leading the nation in young male overdose deaths, there is a clear problem that isn’t being addressed where it matters most.

While one of the newly funded treatment centers is located in Philadelphia, the area of Pennsylvania with the highest rate of opiate abuse, Allegheny County is not far behind. Philadelphia has 41.98 drug-related deaths per 100,000 residents, and Allegheny County has 24.93, which, while less than half, is far above many of the other counties’ statistics, four of which have 0 drug-related deaths per 100,000 residents. With such aggressive data coming from every direction — most notably from the federal government itself — it’s a wonder that Pittsburgh is not receiving comparable funding to combat this epidemic.

Within the Appalachian region, drug addiction has been a frightening issue.
Our own senator, Patrick Toomey, has recently spearheaded a bill which would address some serious prescription drug abuse within the state he serves.

While prescription drugs are a necessary evil, and require heavy monitoring, heroin usage is slightly more cut-and-dry. There needs to be more of a focus on rehabilitation and recovery, and without the necessary funding, care centers in the Allegheny area are ill-equipped to handle the growing threat that addiction poses to our community.

Unless our treatment capabilities can grow with the number of drug-related deaths — and hopefully aggressively lower them — the chasm between the problem we must tackle and our ability to do so will only increase.