HARRISBURG – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) that would help to enhance the recovery treatment for patients with a drug addiction was the focus of a hearing today at the state Capitol in Harrisburg conducted by the House Human Services Committee. Heffley is a member of the committee, which is chaired by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks).
One of the bills discussed was House Bill 596
, which would create an internet-based registry of available beds in detox and rehab facilities statewide for drug recovery patients in need of treatment. The other measure examined was House Bill 424, which would establish a statewide “warm hand-off” program to facilitate recovery treatment for drug overdose survivors.
House Bill 424
was inspired by the Blue Guardian program in Lehigh County. Under the initiative, police, emergency medical technicians or first responders who respond to an overdose incident relay that information into the Blue Guardian program. When the patient returns home, he or she is then visited by a police officer and a certified recovery specialist (CRS) who discuss treatment options with them and encourage their participation. The district attorney, coroner and drug task force members are then able to utilize this data to track trends in the community.
Layne Turner, Lehigh County drug and alcohol administrator, told committee members that Blue Guardian has had a positive impact in their community since its inception a year ago.
“Of the 52 individual face-to-face meetings, 34 individuals entered treatment,” said Turner. “The lesson learned is when the face-to-face contacts are made, 65 percent of the time individuals enter treatment. This speaks directly to the power of the joint police-CRS contact.”
Dr. Gilliam Beauchamp, of the Lehigh Valley Health Network, testified in support of both bills. “Substance use disorder needs to be managed as a disease, requiring many partners working together to provide a full continuum of care across many support systems,” she said. “The warm hand-off initiative is often the first step in that continuum to make the connections necessary to bring a patient to the full complement of resources needed to lead to recovery.”
One testifier told the committee that such programs are effective because personal contact with the patient is made quickly.
“The time immediately following an opioid overdose may represent a critical period or teachable moment to connect patients with substance abuse disorder to treatment through warm hand-offs,” said Dr. Karen Dugosh, Public Health Management Corporation’s center on addictions director. “I believe that the proposed legislation has the potential to increase the success of Pennsylvania’s warm hand-off mandate.”
Dugosh and other experts provided suggestions for strengthening Heffley’s proposal, including the use of effective medications and improving initial patient care.
“(The bill) proposes to develop a network where emergency medical services can directly transport overdose survivors to treatment and recovery centers, bypassing the emergency department. They are not equipped to manage acute medical complications of overdose and intoxication,” testified Dr. Charles Barbera, Reading Hospital department of emergency medicine chair.
“The folks who joined us today are on the front line of Pennsylvania’s drug epidemic and know through years of experience what works and what doesn’t when it comes to getting a person with an addiction into treatment,” said Heffley. “I truly appreciate their input, which we will now use to make our legislation even better.”
“I want to thank Chairman DiGirolamo for holding the hearing and recognizing the importance of moving these two bills forward as quickly as possible,” he added.
To view a video of the hearing, visit youtu.be/3Yf8GuZ980c
Representative Doyle Heffley
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Andy Briggs