State Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr. brought his campaign for attorney general to Schuylkill County on Wednesday by unveiling a plan to combat Pennsylvania’s growing problem of addiction to heroin and other opioids.
“There is not a greater crisis facing the people of Pennsylvania than the heroin epidemic,” Rafferty, R-44, a Montgomery County Republican, said during a press conference at the Simon Kramer Institute. “There are no socio-economic boundaries, certainly no geographical boundaries.”
Rafferty said that if elected on Nov. 8, he will create a Heroin Strike Force in the attorney general’s office to increase the manpower and money devoted to fighting heroin and other drugs that he said killed 2,500 Pennsylvanians in 2015.
“There will be no safe harbor” for drug dealers in Pennsylvania, he said. “We will be the state that people will want to model themselves after.”
That was music to the ears of Tammy Sienkiewicz, Tamaqua, whose daughter, Alexandria, 23, died on April 2 of a Fentanyl overdose.
“If it doesn’t stop, it will just keep going,” Sienkiewicz, who is vice president of Safer Streets for Tamaqua’s Little Feats, said of the opioid epidemic. “(Heroin) steals your soul.”
Sienkiewicz’s group will sponsor the Overdose Awareness Candle Light Walk on July 30 in Tamaqua from Bungalow Park to the former CVS parking lot.
Rafferty, who is running against Montgomery County commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro to replace Democrat Kathleen Kane, who is not running for re-election, as the state’s highest law enforcement official, welcomed several Schuylkill County officials to support his efforts.
“We want to make sure our people are safe,” commissioners Chairman George F. Halcovage Jr. said. “It’s affecting every family.”
District Attorney Christine A. Holman said she believes Rafferty is the better choice for attorney general.
“I can’t think of a better person … to lead the charge against heroin than John Rafferty,” Holman said.
Local law enforcement officials like Holman will play a vital part in fighting the opioid epidemic, Rafferty said.
“The local DAs are going to play a very important role,” he said.
Pennsylvania should restore mandatory prison sentences for mid-level and upper-level drug dealers, Rafferty said.
Also, Rafferty said that if he is elected, he will have special agents and prosecutors devoted to fighting the heroin epidemic. Some of those agents, along with ex-addicts, will go to schools to educate youngsters about the problems drugs present, he said.
“We want to fight them,” he said.
Rafferty said the strike force will include highly trained Bureau of Narcotics Investigation agents, drug prosecutors and intelligence analysts who would work closely with federal, state and local law enforcement.
Additionally, he said he will provide enhanced training for police agencies and better coordination among law enforcement and prosecutors at all government levels in order to improve intelligence collection, interdiction and prosecution of cases.
However, the criminal justice system is not the only way Rafferty will combat drugs. He said he will ensure there are enough treatment program for recovering addicts, and that doctors will play a role in the fight.
“We can’t jail our way out of this problem,” Rafferty said. He said his program will include an emphasis on treatment of individuals and a public education campaign about the dangers of heroin.
Coroner Dr. David J. Moylan III said his office also is seeing the disastrous results of the epidemic. He said he handled 25 fatal overdoses in all of 2015 but has seen 34 so far this year.
“We’re going to have to focus on education,” Moylan said. He said there will be a conference on how opioid addiction affects families on Oct. 3 at the Lodge at Sharp Mountain, Pottsville.
A deputy attorney general for about four years, Rafferty said he has worked in many facets of the law and can put that experience to work to fight the heroin epidemic and Pennsylvania’s other problems.
“The Office of Attorney General is that junction of law and policy,” he said. “I pledge that, as attorney general, I will work day and night against this devastating epidemic. My multipronged plan to fight the heroin epidemic in Pennsylvania is sorely needed. We must get serious.”
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