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Prescription pill abuse called 'epidemic' in Pennsylvania

| Saturday, April 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania state Senator Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, introduces Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane to actign Pittsburgh police Chief Regina McDonald at a community drug forum at the Penn Hills Library Saturday, April 5, 2014.

Prescription pill abuse is rising at an alarming rate, and it's difficult to combat because the drugs are everywhere, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said at a forum on Saturday in Penn Hills.

“We all have them laying around,” she said. “I'm an offender. I think I still have the Percocets from when I gave birth 11 years ago.”

Children as young as middle school are going into their parents' medicine cabinets, taking prescription pills and sharing them with their friends at “pharm” parties, she said.

Because the drugs came from a doctor, young people mistakenly believe they are safe, Kane said.

“It is dangerous ... because they don't even know what they're taking,” she said.

Kane spoke in Penn Hills Library at a event focused on the abuse of illegal and prescription drugs. State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, organized the event, which drew about 75 people and included acting Pittsburgh police Chief Regina McDonald and Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton.

“Folks are not as cognizant of the link between prescription drugs and illegal drugs as a gateway,” Costa said. “It is an epidemic that needs to be addressed.”

Prosecutors have long battled illegal drug sales and abuse, Kane said, but the fight has turned into “downright war.” She said Pennsylvania trails only California and Illinois in the number of drug users and that Western Pennsylvania leads the state in the rate of drug overdoses.

“We don't know why it's the western part of the state,” Kane said. “All we know is we have to have a focused deterrent.”

Kane said her office is working to coordinate drug enforcement at the state and local levels. It has established a database to track heroin stamps used by dealers to market and distinguish different varieties of the illicit drug.

Citing that almost all of the illegal drugs coming into the United States arrive from Mexico, Kane said she traveled to the border to work with drug enforcement and border control agents. She said interdiction is needed to stop the drugs before they get to the state.

“Some may say: ‘Well, why bother going to the border?' ” Kane said. “ ‘Why take that trip?' Because the drugs are coming into the United States from Mexico, a safer border is a safer Pennsylvania.”

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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