- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The Pennsylvania Medical Society launched an education effort Tuesday to help physicians and patients find treatment alternatives to highly addictive painkillers in an effort to stem a tide of overdoses and addiction.

In a Capitol news conference, the society’s president, Dr. Scott Shapiro, referenced one of the state’s former mottos, “State of Independence,” and said Pennsylvania has become the “State of Dependence.”

“We have come to rely too heavily on using opioids for pain,” Shapiro said.

Dr. David Talenti, the medical society’s chairman, said 80 percent of heroin addicts started out on an opioid prescription.

The doctors’ group recommended steps that physicians should take and posted prescribing guidelines and other materials online . It also said it planned an online advertising effort.

The steps for physicians include helping get treatment for patients who have a substance use disorder. That recommendation comes as the state and federal governments look to pump millions more dollars into creating new treatment slots.

According to the data firm IMS Health, nearly 10.4 million prescriptions for opioid medications were filled for patients in Pennsylvania in 2015. That was down from 11.3 million in 2013, and Talenti said physicians in Pennsylvania have significantly improved their awareness of the problem in the past three years.

Three years ago, physician education about the opioid addiction problem was “weak,” Talenti said.

“I think in the last three years they’re coming up to speed,” Talenti said.

A 2012 analysis of data cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Pennsylvania’s rate of painkiller prescriptions was in the top half of states.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said heroin and opioid overdoses are now Pennsylvania’s leading cause of accidental deaths. It counted nearly 2,500 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2014 and estimated that the 2015 total will surpass that.

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This story has been corrected to show the number of prescriptions for opioid medications filled by patients in 2015 was 10.4 million, not 10.4, and that 11.3 million prescriptions were filled in 2013, not 2014.


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