A recent report from the PA Health Care Cost Containment Council revealed that Pennsylvania hospitals recorded approximately 36,712 opioid-related hospitalizations in 2017 –– a hospitalization rate of 345.9 per 100,000 county residents.

According to the PHC4 report, McKean County saw 66 opioid-related hospitalizations, or a hospitalization rate of 190.3.

Janene Dunn, communication specialist for the Upper Allegheny Health System, said that not everyone who has an opioid-related health issue goes to the hospital for treatment.

“(Staff) told me they see a lot patients from New York and treat more (patients for) alcohol dependency than opioids,” Dunn said.

Potter County had 12 opioid-related admissions –– showing the lowest rate of the nearby counties of 85.7.

Warren County recorded 84 opioid-related hospitalizations, or a rate of 251.3.

Elk County had 157 hospitalizations, or a rate of 615.7 –– the second highest rate in the state.

According to Richard Nenneau, service line director at Penn Highlands Behavioral Health in Elk County, opioid overdose has become a serious public health challenge across the nation, and Northwestern/Central Pennsylvania is no exception.

“The rate of opioid-related hospitalizations and accidental overdoses has reached epidemic proportions,” Nenneau said. “From my perspective, the rate of opioid-related admissions to hospital emergency departments and intensive care units will only increase.”

Nenneau further noted that Penn Highlands remains a critical access point for patients seeking emergency care, behavioral health services and substance abuse treatment, and that the system continues to educate providers in the safe prescribing of opioid medications.

Penn Highlands’ three-year Master Facilities Plan calls for a new 126-bed behavioral health campus providing a comprehensive continuum of behavioral health services at Penn Highlands DuBois East. The campus will include a new dual diagnosis unit for patients who need behavioral health services as well as drug and alcohol detox and rehabilitation.

Nenneau said ideas for legislative action could include establishing drug courts in every county, and involuntary commitment to substance abuse treatment.

“These are controversial issues that should be up for debate,” he said.

In addition, Nenneau said opioids have legitimate uses in medical practice.

“My fear in making opioid pain medication more difficult to obtain by prescription is that if people with issues of chronic pain are unable to obtain necessary prescription medication, they will go to whatever lengths necessary to find relief for their pain — even if that means turning to street drugs, which, as we all know, is a very dangerous proposition.”

Officials from UPMC Cole and UPMC Kane did not comment.