Gov. Wolf issues disaster declaration against heroin and opioid addiction

Kenny Tucker
January 11, 2018

With opioids killing more people than any other health crisis in Pennsylvania's modern history, Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday declared a disaster emergency that suspends regulations hindering access to addiction care.

"While we have made progress in combatting the heroin and opioid abuse crisis and drastically expanded Pennsylvania's response, we are still losing far too many Pennsylvanians", the Democrat said in a statement.

The declaration established an Opioid Command Center to be located within the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) today noted its support for the Governor's declaration of Pennsylvania's heroin and opioid addiction crisis as a statewide disaster emergency.

Gail Groves Scott, manager of the Substance Use Disorders Institute at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and a Lancaster Township resident, called Wolf's declaration "a disappointment to those who were hoping it would bring real change".

Wolf said that the Centers for Disease Control has Pennsylvania ranked fourth worst in the country for the overdose death rate of its citizens.

The state had 4,642 drug overdose deaths in 2016 and 3,900 were opioid related, according to report cited by The Gazette, conducted by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the University of Pittsburgh.

Preliminary figures show 5,260 Pennsylvanians died from drug overdoses in 2017. A Wolf aide said seven other states have taken similar actions to address the opioid problem.

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While the move was touted in the state house, some on the front lines of the crisis wonder if the declaration goes far enough to make a difference.

Reactions to the declaration poured in from across the commonwealth. "It is the worst public health crisis that we have faced in Pennsylvania".

Stating that the epidemic has "ripped apart far too many families", U.S. Sen.

The state's delay in rolling out a drug monitoring program may be part of the reason why Pennsylvania is still seeing deaths increase, he said.

The opioid epidemic has hit the commonwealth hard over the past few years.

Citing his membership in the York Regional Opiate Collaborative, Wagner urged the governor "to come to one of our meetings so we can share with him our methods and work together to tackle this public health emergency".

CCAP noted that enhanced collaboration among state and local authorities to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid and heroin epidemic is critical to the success of any efforts.

In November, the Department of Health launched PMP Aware, created to help providers and pharmacies coordinate on the prescription of opioid painkillers to patients as well as identify patients possibly abusing them.

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