Mandatory Treatment, Strict Prescription Limits, Tough Sentences for Dealers with Illegal Guns Featured

Harrisburg – April 19, 2017 – A package of legislation requiring mandatory treatment for drug addicted offenders charged with minor offenses, strict opioid prescription limits, and new stiff penalties for those possessing large quantities of drugs and illegal guns will soon be introduced by state Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland).

“We must address the causes, effects and repercussions of heroin addiction on multiple levels,” Brewster said.  “The problem has reached epidemic proportions and a new approach that focuses on drug prevention, recovery and enforcement needs to be put into place. 

“New laws are necessary to get those who are addicted and commit minor criminal acts into treatment and stop the flow of prescription opiates leading to heroin dependency.  Plus, lawmakers need to really drill down on those who push drugs while possessing illegal guns.”

Under Brewster’s legislation, a person charged with a minor non-violent criminal offense (misdemeanor one and lower) who has been treated by first responders in emergency situations can be subject to mandatory commitment to a treatment facility if it is determined that he or she is addicted and believed to be a danger to himself or herself or others.  The person charged, his or her attorney, or the district attorney will initiate the mandatory treatment procedure.   

A hearing would be held within 10 days of arrest to ascertain whether the person can be involuntarily treated. The initial period of treatment would be 12 months. Out-patient treatment may be available if a panel of experts determines that treatment can be maintained.  If the person successfully completes the treatment protocol the criminal charges may be dismissed. 

“Short-term treatment regimens are not always successful in dealing with addiction,” Brewster said.   “In some cases, the person finishes treatment returns to dependency – often committing a crime to pay for more heroin.  It is important to break that cycle.    

“This proposal gives those who commit relatively minor, non-violent crime due to their addiction the opportunity to treat their addiction and have the charges dismissed.”

The lawmaker said that mandatory treatment is only one part of the three-pronged approach.  His legislative package also includes a strong prevention component.  The plan would prohibit opioid prescriptions of more than 100 milligrams of morphine or the equivalent each day.  The idea, he said, is to stop abuse of the most commonly prescribed opioids. 

“Perhaps the most important act we can take is to prevent the abuse of opioids by restricting the availability of the drug,” Brewster said.  “This legislation is in line with federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state board of medicine guidelines.”

Brewster said that his measure also mirrors a law now in force in Maine that restricts opioid prescriptions.  He said the CDC indicated that patients receiving prescriptions in higher levels than those specified in the guidelines are linked to patient harm and represent a disproportionate share of overdoses.

The final piece of his package is aimed directly at enforcement and drug dealers who illegally possess guns. Brewster’s bill would restore stricter sentences for armed drug dealers previously invalidated by the courts.  He proposes stiffening penalties for those possessing both large quantities of drugs and illegal weapons.  Sentences are enhanced by one grade if the individual is convicted of dealing while illegally possessing a weapon.

“The heroin epidemic is often fueled by well-armed drug dealers who prey on those who are addicted,” Brewster said.  “If this measure passes, drug dealers who prowl about loaded with drugs and illegal guns will be dealt with harshly.

“Taking drug dealers off the streets for longer periods of time will help stanch the flow of drugs.”

The McKeesport lawmaker, who formerly served as mayor, said that he realizes the approach outlined would be expensive but that ways of defraying costs may be available. 

“There are several ways officials can deal with the cost of the approach I’ve detailed,” Brewster said.  “Many of those who are charged with minor offenses involving drug addiction end up incarcerated.  If they are treated, remain clean and there is no recidivism, then taxpayer-paid corrections costs are reduced. 

“I also believe that we can also shift some of the cost of treatment to the federal government through Medicaid-eligible individuals who are charged.  Additionally, there are funds from drug seizures can be redirected to help pay for drug treatment.”

Brewster said that by bringing stakeholders in the treatment community – non-profit treatment facilities, hospitals, for-profit treatment centers – together an assessment can be made concerning the resources necessary to put his comprehensive approach into effect.

“Better coordination and collaboration is essential for all the aspects of this plan to function effectively,” Brewster said. 

He said that he is anxious to work with leaders in the effort to eradicate opioid abuse, such as state Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) and Gov. Tom Wolf, who have been dedicated to developing policies to address the problem.

“I applaud the work of Senator Yaw and Governor Wolf, and all the members of the General Assembly, for the effort thus far,” Brewster said.  “Getting to the root of problem, preventing opioid abuse, providing treatment, and enforcing new laws aimed at drug dealers with guns builds on the foundation.”

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