Editorial Shamokin News Item, February 18, 2014:
Attorneys general in Pennsylvania always have made drug interdiction a top priority, and Gov. Tom Corbett was no exception during his eight years in that office.
That makes it all the more remarkable that he has proposed a nearly 8-percent budget reduction for the attorney general's office.
According to Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who testified last week at House and Senate budget hearings, Corbett's proposed budget would necessitate furloughs in the drug law enforcement division. In 2005, she said, Corbett's attorney general's office had 205 employees in that division, whereas his new budget proposal would bring that staffing to 146.
The governor proposed the reduction in early February, even as the attorney general's office was investigating 22 heroin overdose deaths that had just occurred in western Pennsylvania during a single week.
Moreover, the state also is afflicted with an epidemic of prescription drug addiction. Overdose deaths involving prescription drugs have increased by 89 percent statewide since 1999, Kane testified, and hospital admissions for opioid and synthetic drug overdoses increased by 100 percent between 2004 and 2011.
Many researchers believe those trends are related. People addicted to powerful prescription painkillers often switch to heroin because it is cheaper.
As Kane noted, improvement does not depend on enforcement alone but on a combination of enforcement and increased treatment.
But given the trends in Pennsylvania, enforcement is not simply a matter of interdicting supplies and making arrests, but of saving lives.
Lawmakers should ensure that the attorney general's office has adequate funding to help diminish the scourge of heroin addiction.
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