Pennsylvania has the third highest number of heroin users, behind California and Illinois, according to state law enforcement officials. In response to the ranking, state lawmakers are trying to learn more about the problem of escalating use and overdose.

Hearings on what lawmakers call a heroin epidemic began in southwestern Pennsylvania, with two more expected in the the central and eastern regions of the state.

Republican state Representative Tim Krieger, of Westmoreland County, says he was surprised to learn some heroin addiction begins with a legitimate prescription.

"Oxycontin or some kind of opiate based painkiller. Six months from now, their prescription runs out, and they're addicted. And they turn to heroin because it's a cheaper alternative than going on the black market to buy the opiate, to buy the painkillers," he said.

Lawmakers are considering expanding a prescription drug monitoring database to tamp down abuse of such drugs.

The effort is opposed by civil libertarians, and a recent change to the bill has prompted an outcry among doctors who say it could infringe on patient privacy.

The state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs suggests curbing opioid use will likely cause a spike in heroin use, so additional funding for detox programs is needed.