Dec. 13, 2017
Dr. Eric Kocian, assistant professor of criminology, law and society at Saint Vincent College, recently presented the results of an opioid addiction research study conducted in Westmoreland County on how to effectively combat the opioid crisis in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to the members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
Kocian was joined at his appearance in Harrisburg by Fr. Paul R. Taylor, O.S.B., executive vice president of Saint Vincent.
“The heroin and opioid crisis is a challenge facing the entire Commonwealth and members of our legislature,” commented Rep. Ron Marsico, Judiciary Committee chair. He noted that the committee has enacted legislation that authorizes Narcan use for overdoses.
Rep. Joseph Petrarca, Democratic chair, said he is an alumnus of Saint Vincent College and understands the work the institution is doing for combating the crisis.
Kocian said that the opioid addiction research study examined 158 participants in recovery at narcotics anonymous meetings, the data outreach center which is outpatient therapy, the methadone maintenance center in Greensburg, the Westmoreland County jail and voluntary participants. "Out of the 158 people we interviewed, 128 have used heroin at some point in their lives, while 30 did not," he said.
"One of the first things we did was to ask participants about their drug inventory to get an understanding of what drugs were being used throughout the course of their life," Kocian said. “Of the drugs used by participants, ecstasy, alcohol, prescription drugs, heroin, cocaine and marijuana were above the 50 percent threshold for use.”
Kocian said that three drugs were significant in regard to predicting who would transition to heroin. Those who used cocaine, prescription drugs and/or LSD were significantly more likely to transition to heroin. Kocian said that the age of onset of the three drugs was also significant; and he indicated that those who used heroin began using those drugs at a much younger age compared to others who did not transition to heroin.
Kocian said that the average age of onset for marijuana and alcohol use was 14 and that 84 percent of participants who used other drugs at 14 or younger went on to heroin use later in life. He said that 80 percent of heroin users moved to the drug due to prescription drug use and 15 percent moved from heroin to prescription drugs. Kocian said that a five-year window between prescription drug use and heroin existed. "Perhaps the most fascinating thing our study uncovered is what we call CLP score (the correlation between the three significant drugs that correlate with heroin use),” he said.
According to Kocian, only nine participants did not engage in cocaine, LSD or prescription drug use before heroin (a CLT score of zero). “Of the 28 participants with a CLP score of one, 18 went on to use heroin; an 80 percent increase of odds between using one of those drugs prior to heroin,” Kocian said. “A CLP score of 2 provided 643 percent greater odds of using heroin and a CLP score of 3 provided a 1,125 percent increase of odds in using heroin. Kocian said that there was no statistical difference in self-reported stress and heroin use, but rather inappropriate coping mechanisms while younger (through drug use) did lead to use of harder drugs later in life.”
Kocian said the most effective treatment option for heroin users was Narcotic Anonymous (NA) support programs and spiritual counseling services, and suboxone and methadone treatment were reported to be not very effective, according to the majority of people he interviewed. He attributed the support services as effective due to the more humanized approach to treatment and that a future study will hope to find a better understanding of treatment effectiveness. Mandatory treatment was found not to be productive in providing heroin users relief. According to Kocian, gender, mental illness, education and employment were not statistically significant factors for indicating potential heroin users. He concluded with saying that he hopes the study can be replicated in Westmoreland County again.
Rep. Richard Saccone said that he appreciated the inclusion of spiritual-based services as an effective treatment and that the stigma against those services must be removed. Kocian said that they may be effective because of the language used by spiritual leaders to connect to the basis of a recovering person's problem.
Petrarca asked about the difference of alcohol and marijuana use at a younger age and where to draw the line for punishment and treatment. Kocian said that the earlier someone uses any drugs, the more likelihood that they will use harder drugs and that utilizing the drug courts and the juvenile justice system could bridge the gap between treatment and punishment.
Rep. Eric Nelson asked if drug education and coping with stress should be expanded into middle school education and Kocian responded that middle school children already know something about heroin.
In addition to Marsico and Petrarca, representatives on the committee included Tarah Toohil, Becky Corbin, Sheryl Delozier, Barry Jozwiak, Kate Klunk, Jerry Knowles, Eric Nelson, Tedd Nesbit, Rick Saccone, Paul Schemel, Todd Stephens, Jesse Topper, Martina White, Tim Briggs and Madeleine Dean.
Photo A: Dr. Eric Kocian (second from left) and Fr. Paul R. Taylor, O.S.B. (second from right) of Saint Vincent College met with Pennsylvania House Representatives members of the Judiciary Committee, from left, Democratic Chair Joseph Petrarca, Republican Chair Ron Marsico and Dan Miller.
Photo B: Fr. Paul R. Taylor, O.S.B., left, and Dr. Eric Kocian, third from left, shown with Pennsylvania House Representatives members Joanna E. McClinton and Todd Stephens.
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