Pennsylvania isn’t evaluating addiction programs, audit says
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania state government is not measuring the effectiveness of many of its addiction treatment programs that can be helpful in the fight against the epidemic of heroin and prescription drug overdoses, auditors said Thursday.
The audit launched last year by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recommends that three state agencies — the departments of Human Services, Corrections and Drug and Alcohol Programs — do more to assess whether their addiction treatment programs are successful in curing people. It also warns that more money is needed to fund the effort.
The agencies, all under Gov. Tom Wolf, largely agree with the findings.
The audit noted that the agencies have different ways of defining a program’s effectiveness. It also said that the success of addiction treatment is greatly influenced by someone’s desire to be treated and that tracking the effect of treatment on an addict is very difficult.
The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs must develop a method to monitor the effectiveness of the programs on a regular basis and share that information in a way that is easily accessible by the public, the audit says. That method should include periods after a person leaves drug treatment, it says.
Chronic understaffing and underfunding at the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs is hurting the state’s ability to fight the opioid epidemic, the audit says. Imposing a licensing fee on drug treatment centers would help bring money into the agency, the report says.
The Department of Corrections monitors just one of its seven addiction treatment program for effectiveness, and that work is limited to recidivism, auditors said. The department should evaluate all of the programs for effectiveness, the report says.
Also, the prison agency’s medication-assisted treatment program, which is based on Vivitrol, should target the effectiveness of the drug beyond recidivism rates, auditors said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health should write regulations to ensure Pennsylvania physicians are safely prescribing buprenorphine-related medications. Buprenorphine is designed to block the effects of opioids and help reduce cravings for opioids.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reported last month that there were 4,642 drug fatalities in Pennsylvania in 2016, a 37 percent increase. Prescription or illegal opioids such as heroin were implicated in 85 percent of the deaths, it said.
Pennsylvania was slightly above the national average in 2015 in opioid overdose death rates, according information from the Kaiser Family Foundation.