TUNKHANNOCK — Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Friday traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania to praise those who worked diligently to pass a new state law allowing hospice and home health workers to safely dispose of medications left behind following the death of hospice patients.
Shapiro commended the efforts of Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, and Wyoming Coroner Tom Kukuchka, who were instrumental in the approval of Act 69 — another key step in helping law enforcement stem the flood of prescription drugs fueling the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania.
The senator and coroner stood with Shapiro at the Wyoming Emergency Management Agency in Tunkhannock.
“This new law relieves grieving families of the burden of disposing of unused prescription drugs, and will help keep these drugs from falling into the wrong hands,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro said 80 percent of persons addicted to heroin started by abusing prescription drugs, and over 70 percent of people who misuse prescription drugs get them from friends, relatives or a medicine cabinet.
“This law is a step in the right direction and we’re grateful to Sen. Baker, Coroner Kukuchka and others for their work on it,” he said.
Shapiro and Baker were joined at the news conference by State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake; Wyoming County District Attorney Jeff Mitchell and other Wyoming County officials.
Prior to Act 69, which was sponsored by Baker, it was illegal for home care or hospice workers to dispose of leftover prescriptions; it was against the law for anyone — even healthcare workers — to possess a prescription in someone else’s name. In Pennsylvania, an estimated 66,000 people receive hospice care each year. With this change in the law, hospice workers can now safely dispose of unused prescription drugs after patients pass away.
Shapiro thanked the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Wolf for passing and signing the bill into law. The bill was supported by the Pennsylvania Homecare Association, Bayada Home Health Care, and the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association.
“The situation we have addressed is just one avenue by which drugs could end up in the wrong hands, because a process had been created that lacked sense and safeguards,” Baker said. “But it is one piece of perhaps dozens needed. There is no single large step to solve this crisis. We have to do many things to change laws, regulations, practices, treatments and attitudes. This is not a grand announcement about having turned the corner. Rather, it is to let people know that we are working, we are consulting, we are cooperating, and we are approving measures that we hope will add up to effective antidotes.”
During a roundtable on the epidemic last fall in Baker’s district, Shapiro discussed the legislation, still pending at that time. Attendees at that forum agreed this reform would help keep prescription drugs out of the hands of those who may abuse them, and allow hospice and home health workers to safely dispose of the drugs.
“Overdose fatalities are at record highs,” Kukuchka said. “One of the ways we can help counteract this epidemic is to prevent properly prescribed drugs from falling into the wrong hands. This law helps accomplish that.”
Last year the Office of Attorney General provided 60,000 drug deactivation pouches to 97 home care and hospice organizations in 17 counties to pass on to families of clients, to reduce the flow of prescription drugs fueling the epidemic. On average, 15 Pennsylvanians die every day of an overdose.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.