By Karen Langley

Gov. Wolf signed into law Wednesday a package of bills intended to curb the epidemic of opioid abuse in Pennsylvania.

The new laws will restrict the prescribing of opioids to minors and emergency-room patients, and will increase education for physicians.

Wolf told a crowd in the Capitol rotunda that while the new requirements are to be celebrated, work remains to be done, including requiring health insurers to provide access to versions of opioid drugs that are harder to abuse.

"This is really a historic day," said Rep. Doyle Heffley (R., Carbon), who sponsored a bill on abuse-deterrent opioids that has yet to reach the governor. "These bills are going to save lives."

More than 3,000 Pennsylvania residents died from overdoses last year, with four out of five of those deaths involving heroin, prescription opioids, fentanyl, or a combination of those substances.

The sister of Clark Roderick, who died at 31 of an overdose of heroin and Xanax, spoke about her family's loss. Roderick was "a true Pennsylvania boy" who grew up in Radnor, attended Valley Forge Military Academy and the University of Pittsburgh, and loved the Steelers, Liz Roderick said. He had a contagious chuckle and stood up for people who were bullied, she said.

At 25, Roderick was in an accident that injured his back, and after being prescribed painkillers, he became addicted to heroin, his sister said. His parents sent him to rehab three times, she said. He died in December and was buried in a Steelers jersey in Latrobe, she said.

"If it can happen to Clark, it can happen to anyone," she said. "He got sick, and he lost his way, and we as a society ultimately failed him because so much is still left unknown about how to address these thousands and thousands of cases.

"No one is safe. We need to improve our policies, our laws, our systems, and what we've seen here today is such an incredible step in the right direction."

Under the bills signed Wednesday, prescriptions of opioids to minors will be restricted, including a limit of the prescription to one week, with some exceptions. Opioid prescriptions in emergency rooms will be limited to one week, also with exceptions. Physicians will be required to check a database of patient drug histories each time they prescribe an opioid.

One bill signed into law orders the establishment of medical-school curriculum on the safe prescribing of opioids. Another requires professional education in pain management and related topics.

A final new requirement allows law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and other entities to serve as drop-off locations for unneeded or expired prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer