16-bed detoxification center will open in Mt. Pleasant next year

| Thursday, June 12, 2014, 11:15 p.m.

Drug addicts will be able to get treatment in a medically controlled environment when a 16-bed detoxification center opens next year in Mt. Pleasant, the executive director of Westmoreland County Drug and Alcohol Commission said on Thursday.

Colleen Hughes said Gateway Rehabilitation of Beaver County will open the center at Excela Health Frick Hospital and recently signed a contract with the drug and alcohol commission.

Drug treatment providers have been clamoring for a detox center to properly treat addicts going through withdrawal and to reduce the number of drug overdose deaths.

“We've not had detox in the county for many, many years,” Hughes said. “It's long overdue.”

The announcement was made during a news conference that the county's Drug Overdose Death Task Force held at Westmoreland County Courthouse Square in Greensburg.

Starting June 24, the drug and alcohol commission will have a mobile case manager serving hospital emergency rooms to provide immediate services for overdose patients, Hughes said.

Overdose patients taken to an emergency room will be offered detox and treatment within 24 hours. Currently, physicians can offer an addict only pamphlets detailing where to seek help.

Tim Phillips, director of community prevention services at Westmoreland Community Action, said an in-county facility will save lives.

“It's of the utmost importance,” he said. “We need to take care of our own instead of waiting and going out of county.”

Dirk Matson, director of human services for the county, said Gateway's decision to open a local treatment facility is “huge.”

“It's important to have rehab in Westmoreland County close to where families live so they can be part of the treatment and rehabilitation,” Matson said.

Though officials can't estimate the number of addicts in the county, Matson isn't sure 16 beds will be sufficient to meet demand.

The last detox unit in the county, at the former Monsour Medical Center, closed in 2006.

The nearest detox centers are in Allegheny and Beaver counties, and there is often a waiting list for a bed, Phillips said.

Addicts often undergo painful withdrawal at home without medical treatment that would ease the symptoms, officials said. In a controlled setting, an addict can be treated with drugs such as Suboxone or Naltrexone to lessen the flu-like symptoms of withdrawal, including pain, tremors, nausea, headaches, anxiety and confusion.

The need for detox is critical because the pace of overdose deaths is increasing, according to Coroner Ken Bacha.

His office has investigated 45 overdose deaths this year, and 13 more are pending. Bacha said the county is on pace to break the 2013 record of 86 overdose deaths.

“We could have 90 to 100 at the pace we're going right now,” the coroner said.

Heroin has been flooding the county, and Matson said most heroin addiction is a result of prescription drug use.

The Drug Overdose Death Task Force Thursday urged passage of a state prescription drug-monitoring bill that has passed the Senate and moved to the House, said Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield. She is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill.

Under the law, a state database tracking all narcotics prescriptions would be accessible to law enforcement officers with a search warrant and physicians who could check to see what drugs a patient has used before writing prescriptions.

Ward said the House could pass it by the end of the month.

Pennsylvania is one of two states that does not have a monitoring bill, Matson said.

State Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant, said the differences between the House and Senate version are not significant, and he expects passage.

The House bill will be referred to the Health Committee, then to the Rules Committee before returning to the Senate for concurrence. It would then go to Gov. Tom Corbett for his signature.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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