- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:


Asked to picture an illegal drug sale, you might conjure images of shady characters lurking in dark alleys passing off stamp bags of heroin in exchange for crumpled bills.

Sometimes, that’s exactly how those deals happen.

And sometimes, an illegal drug sale occurs when a person takes a prescription for painkillers to a legitimate pharmacy.

The result is the same: An addict gets his fix and someone else makes money.

But while local, state and federal law-enforcement authorities are working day and night to catch the dealers in that first scenario, they are also tracking unlawful drug prescriptions - sometimes to the doorstep of licensed doctors.

In fact, as Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser noted in Sunday’s editions of The Tribune-Democrat, cases are being built right here in our communities.

“I can’t tell you names, but we have some under investigation,” Lazzari-Strasiser told reporter Randy Griffith. “In Cambria and Somerset counties, there are a couple of targets.”

A key tool in this area of narcotics law enforcement is Pennsylvania’s new Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, signed into existence last year by Gov. Tom Wolf.

The database, controlled by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, tracks the sales of prescription painkillers - those legal opioids - and flags moments when an individual attempts to purchase the same drug in different pharmacies or with multiple prescriptions.

The practice of “doctor shopping” involves individuals misleading doctors and convincing those physicians to over-prescribe painkillers which might be ingested by the addicted patient or sold on the street.

And law-enforcement personnel are also using the information gathered to track doctors whose prescriptions might be characterized as excessive.

“Sometimes it is through patients who have contact with law enforcement,” Lazzari-Strasiser said. “Maybe they are selling the prescription, and they choose to talk about it.”

Twice, the Johnstown region has seen doctors face charges linked to prescription drug sales.

- In 2015, Dr. William Acosta pleaded guilty in federal court to allegations of tax evasion and health care fraud as the result of a probe by the Cambria County Drug Task Force. He had fled to his native Dominican Republican but was brought back to face the charges.

- In 2016, Dr, Glenn Davis pleaded guilty to 24 charges linked to his time running a Geistown pain center. A Homer City man died of an overdose after receiving a prescription for 350 oxycodone pills from Davis - whose office was dubbed a painkiller pipeline by prosecutors in 2014.

Earlier this month, a DuBois doctor was arrested and charged with selling painkillers to individuals who were addicted to opioids.

Of course, most doctors operate within the law and are committed to the welfare of their patients.

But in this time of a global opioids crisis, law enforcement officials at all levels are serving their communities by hunting down anyone who might be adding to the plague of widespread addiction.

To pursue a doctor who might be over-prescribing painkillers, “reasonable suspicion” must be raised, Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said.

But armed with the growing database of prescription drug sales, police are slowing the flow of illegal prescriptions and curtailing the efforts of ill-intended patients and doctors.

Dr. Alcinto Guirand, pain specialist with Conemaugh Health System, offered this optimistic assessment based on the presence of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program: “You should be able to keep track of every legal prescription. ‘Doctor shopping’ should, very soon, be a thing of the past.”

- The Tribune-Democrat

- Online: http://bit.ly/2E6GtaG



One line continues to be repeated during the discussion between the White House and Congress, from both Republican and Democratic sides, over the budget and the partial government shutdown drama: Action is essential so as not to leave Department of Defense financing up in the air.

This particular chord usually also has a note in it about the importance of U.S. national defense and another about supporting our soldiers.

There is no reason to quarrel about either point, although focus on those two relevant factors usually leaves out two others, which should be looked at more vigorously, by the White House, Congress and the public.

The first is that American arms manufacturers and defense-related contractors take away buckets of taxpayer money from America’s wars. The second is that the wars that gobble up this money are seemingly endless. In addition, virtually nothing is being done by the U.S. government to bring the wars to a conclusion, thus bringing to an end the bloody conflict and the risk to life and limb involved for our sons and daughters. Less important but nonetheless relevant is the high level of government expenditure that goes into perpetuating these wars. Is this incidental or deliberate?

The colossal size of the U.S. defense budget has almost come to be taken for granted. At some $600 billion, it dwarfs the budgets over every other nation in the world. Saudi Arabia does take the honors in defense spending per capita, and a lot of that goes to buying U.S. weapons. Still, the United States’ defense budget is greater than the next eight top-spending countries combined, and it’s hard to find anyone in Washington with the will to restrain it.

The money is particularly important when it is understood that the overall budget covers not only defense expenditures, but also money for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, not to mention the tax cuts. Do we really want to see big bites taken out of these programs, most of which benefit American children, disabled and old people, to keep U.S. involvement in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen going?

The Afghanistan War started in 2001; Iraq in 1991, to be continued in 2003; Libya in 2011; Somalia in 1992; Syria in 2012; and Yemen in 2015. We can leave out the point about how American diplomacy also shouldn’t be a victim of budgeting disputes, but it is, in fact, very much to America’s advantage to be playing an active role in bringing these conflicts to an end, to save American lives and money if for no other more global reason.

Are none of these wars susceptible to a constructive effort on America’s part to bring them to an end? Or are some sectors of American society making too much money from them, to our shame?

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

- Online: http://bit.ly/2rE90lw



Republicans on the House State Government Committee approved a major reform Tuesday but rendered it meaningless by rejecting an even more important reform.

On a party-line 14-10 vote, the committee voted to send to the full House a state constitutional amendment to reduce the number of seats in the chamber from 203 to 151. If approved by the full House and Senate, the amendment then would be presented to voters as a referendum.

Pennsylvania has the nation’s largest full-time state legislature, with 203 representatives and 50 senators. It costs about $350 million a year, so the reduction is warranted on economic grounds. But the more important objective is to improve governance by making the chamber more manageable and giving more weight to each representative’s vote.

While approving the amendment, the Republican majority on the committee rejected an even more important initiative that would better ensure the effectiveness of a smaller House. It voted down a Democratic amendment to eliminate gerrymandering by creating an independent commission to remap legislative, senatorial and congressional districts every 10 years.

Reapportionment is controlled by a few legislative leaders, who repeatedly have demonstrated that they do so in their own interest rather than in the interest of fair elections and good governance.

The state Supreme Court on Monday threw out as unconstitutional the horribly gerrymandered congressional district map that the Republican legislative majorities concocted in 2011. It ordered that new, fairer districts be established by Feb. 15. But the ruling applies only to the existing map, not to the process.

It is crucial that Pennsylvania follow the growing national trend to take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians and put it in the hands of an independent commission. Leaving redistricting with politicians means that a smaller House will have 151 seats, rather than 203, still representing districts that are crafted for the majority party’s advantage.

Fairly drawn districts are needed to ensure that there are fewer perpetually “safe” seats, more competitive elections, and governance based on the broad public interest rather than the narrow interests of legislative leaders.

Independent redistricting must attend any reduction in the Legislature’s size.

- The Times-Tribune

- Online: http://bit.ly/2E6TMbt



A panel of scientists brought some new attention to an old idea last week by calling for tightening drunken-driving laws. The group representing the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommended lowering the legal threshold for the offense from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.

The National Transportation Safety Board called for such a change five years ago, but thus far Utah is the only state to pass legislation lowering the limit.

The report could put some momentum behind the proposal. The effort was commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which asked the academies to determine which strategies for reducing drunken driving have been proved effective. The most likely path toward widespread adoption of a lower limit would be action by the federal government encouraging states to make a change. That’s how the limit dropped from the once ubiquitous 0.10 percent.

We believe the idea is well worth considering. Despite decades of efforts, deadly drunken driving remains a menace in America.

The report noted that alcohol-impaired driving accounts for 28 percent of traffic deaths. Each day, 29 people in the U.S. die in alcohol-related crashes, and many more are injured. Forty percent of those killed are people other than the drunken driver.

Panel chairman Steven Teutsch of the University of Southern California put it plainly: “We have 10,000 people a year dying, and we ought to do something about it.”

It’s particularly alarming to note that the report indicates that the problem is getting worse, due in large part to changes in alcoholic beverages and how they are consumed.

“They are more affordable, of far greater variety, and more widely advertised and promoted than in earlier periods,” the report said, further noting that the combination of alcohol with caffeine and energy drinks make it harder for drinkers to estimate their level of impairment.

More than 100 countries have adopted the 0.05 threshold. In Europe, the share of traffic deaths attributable to drunken driving was reduced by more than half within 10 years after the legal percentage was lowered, the National Transportation Safety Board said in 2013.

While we wait to see how government officials respond to the report, it offers valuable information that all adults can put to work on their own.

The report offers some valuable guidance about how many drinks it takes for a would-be motorist to become impaired. It said most women over 120 pounds would reach 0.05 percent after two drinks. Men weighing up to about 160 pounds would likely reach the lower threshold at two, and those over 180 pounds at three.

The message is clear: Having more than a drink or two before driving is a recipe for potential disaster. It’s even better not to drink at all when driving is going to be necessary, or to secure a ride from a sober friend, relative or a taxi or ride-sharing service.

Don’t assume that just because you feel normal that you’re not impaired. Overconfidence in one’s ability to absorb alcohol is dangerous, and the more one drinks, the more difficult it is to make a rational decision.

Regardless of what the law says, we all have it in our power to make sensible decisions that eliminate any risk of a DUI arrest, or even worse, of being responsible for a tragedy.

- Reading Eagle

- Online: http://bit.ly/2BrT6dI



Congratulations, Philadelphia!

No, not because the Eagles are Super Bowl-bound, though that’s certainly worth a celebratory toast as well.

We’re referring to the City of Brotherly Love making the list of 20 finalists vying to host a new second headquarters for online retail giant Amazon.

In fact, Pennsylvania was one of just two states, along with Texas, that can boast two cities as finalists: Pittsburgh is also in the running.

The inclusion of Pennsylvania’s eastern and western metropolises says much about the state’s workforce, infrastructure, competitive standing and flat-out spirit.

After all, Amazon can locate its colossal new headquarters - which is estimated to generate $5 billion in construction costs and 50,000 new jobs - anywhere. And it was nothing if not particular about its requirements.

In announcing what amounted to a request for public bids last fall, Amazon listed its chief needs as proximity to a metropolitan area with a population of more than 1 million; the ability to attract top technical talent; direct access to mass transit; an international airport within a 45-minute drive; and ample room to expand the headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

Still, the competition was fierce. In making the Top 20, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh emerged from a list of 238 competitors.

Now the hard work begins. A as Amazon officials take a closer look at the finalists, the two cities must sharpen their arguments. And they have powerful arguments to make.

Yes, there are likely to be robust incentive packages - $50 billion in construction and 50,000 jobs don’t come sailing into town without a little investment.

But it is that most valuable of resources - human resources - which can be the ultimate game-changer.

Pennsylvania has a long and proud tradition as a manufacturing, agricultural and mining state. But it also home to impressive numbers of highly educated tech workers, the type that Amazon insists are a precondition to putting down roots.

That point must be driven home.

Just as important, both cities afford the type of lifestyle amenities that keep those workers - all residents, actually - plugged in, proud and productive.

In fact, quality-of-life benefits highlighted Philadelphia’s initial pitch to Amazon, and rightly so.

Walkability, bike-ability and the second-shortest commute time of any city on the East Coast are among the city’s bragging rights. A tourist-attracting historic district, a vast public art collection and hundreds of sidewalk cafes add to the attractiveness ledger.

Pittsburgh has a history of luring innovative companies - Google and Uber already have offices there - thanks to, among other amenities, its affordable cost of living.

To say that either city’s selection by Amazon would be a shot in the arm to the entire state would be an understatement. A much-hoped-for revival of the state’s coal industry has thus far fallen flat, a trend that will be exacerbated by Dana Mining’s announcement of plans to close a mine in southwestern Pennsylvania in March, costing 400 jobs. Promises of job growth in other sectors, such as agriculture, have likewise been slow to materialize.

By looking forward, rather than to the past, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are showing the state the true path to revitalization.

Selection as home to Amazon’s so-called HQ2 would be a resounding victory. But regardless of that decision, Pennsylvania’s two biggest cities have demonstrated anew that they have the right stuff to lead the state forward as it seeks to address 21st century challenges and, more importantly, opportunities.

- The York Dispatch

- Online: http://bit.ly/2BpxApZ

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