U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that Pennsylvania would receive a federal grant worth nearly $20 million to help law enforcement and public health agencies fight opioid abuse. Pennsylvania was sixth in the nation in fatal overdoses, and nearly 80 percent of Pennsylvania counties had fatal overdose rates above the national average. Last year more than 4,000 Pennsylvanians lost their lives to drug overdoses, an average of 13 per day.
The numbers are mind-boggling. And they’re getting worse.
Lancaster County’s 911 system has logged nearly 5,000 drug overdose calls since the beginning of 2014, according to the Lancaster County district attorney’s office. Last year, 117 people in Lancaster County died from a drug overdose, according to Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni. As LNP reported earlier this month, Diamantoni said that at the current pace, there will be many more deaths this year than last.
It is reassuring that Attorney General Sessions and the Trump administration have made the opioid crisis a priority, and that resources to deal with the issue will be coming to Pennsylvania.
Sessions called the epidemic “the deadliest drug crisis in American history.”
He’s correct. In 1999, opioids killed 4,030 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2014, opioid deaths climbed to 18,893. By comparison, cocaine killed 5,415.
Sessions said he believes the solution is based on “the three principles of prevention, enforcement and treatment.”
Though we realize enforcement will play a role, we have never believed that we can arrest our way out of the opioid crisis. We continue to favor an approach that places a heavy emphasis on prevention and treatment.
Sessions did not detail exactly how the money will be spent, but he did say a “a comprehensive antidote to the problem” is needed, LNP’s Susan Baldrige reported last week.
Sessions said he believes this is a “winnable war.” We hope that’s true. Because, right now, we’re losing.
Getting the lead out
Columbia will begin testing every home and apartment in the borough for lead beginning next week, LNP reported Wednesday.
We commend borough officials for recognizing a problem and taking steps to solve it — a welcome change of pace for government at any level.
“We know we have a problem,” Columbia Mayor Leo Lutz told LNP. “Because 90 percent of our houses were built prior to 1978, they all have lead paint somewhere.”
This issue requires a proactive approach. We should be testing properties before children show elevated lead levels in their blood, before they are endangered.
“Communities should stop using children as mini biosensors, like canaries in a coal mine,” Marie Miranda, an environmental health researcher, said at the announcement of the Columbia initiative.
Lead-Safe Columbia is a voluntary pilot project, and we see no reason why the program shouldn’t receive full participation.
The project is an initiative of Health Columbia, which is under the fiscal sponsorship of CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health in Lancaster.
Lead is dangerous for children. Miranda said many studies have proven the higher the lead exposure, the lower the standardized test scores in school-age children. Even low levels of lead exposure can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
We’re happy that someone is paying attention to this issue.
It’s not a new problem. The government prohibited lead-based paint in 1978, but that doesn’t mean it has disappeared, especially in places like Columbia, where, as the mayor pointed out, most of the houses were built before the ban.
Locally, there is a greater danger to lead exposure from paint chips and dust than from water contaminated by lead pipes, though we shouldn’t ignore the latter.
The Lead-Safe Columbia project will link residents to services and resources that could help them obtain financial assistance to address any levels of lead found in homes and apartments.
The mayor said it could take as long as five years to test every home or apartment.
It will be time well-spent.