Wolf Turns to Disaster Emergency to Deal with Opioid Crisis in Pa

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It’s typically a natural disaster when a governor declares a state of emergency, but Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday announced a 90-day opioid emergency declaration. He says the crisis has gotten out of control.

Wolf says the declaration will increase the state’s response to the epidemic and allow agencies to work more closely together. The governor also announced 13 new initiatives in hopes of having an impact on that crisis.

“Those that we have lost are not just numbers, they’re mothers, they’re fathers, sons, daughters, family members, neighbors. All of them are contributing members of our society,” Wolf said.

Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for drug overdose deaths, according to Wolf.

“I’m announcing the opening of the Opioid Operational Command Center. The command center will be housed with PEMA. The center will track and monitor the state’s progress and bring other agencies in to do it.

“For example, the Pennsylvania State Police and potentially the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, all state agencies that may have some role and capability to address this,” said Rick Flinn, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

“Addiction and opioid use disorder are medical conditions. They are diseases. They are not a moral failing,” Physician General and Acting Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said.

Some other initiatives include increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, allowing EMS to leave behind Naloxone at a user’s home, and expanding the Department of Drug and Alcohol Program’s 24/7 emergency drug hotline.

“It’s a hotline geared at connecting individuals with resources and providing direct referrals into treatment,” said Jennifer Smith, DDAP director.

More than 4,600 Pennsylvanians died from drug overdoses in 2016. Wolf says initial numbers show the number should be around 5,200 in 2017.

“We’re still losing too many Pennsylvanians, and as long as that happens, I’m going to continue to look for better ways to address this epidemic,” Wolf said.

The other initiatives include:

  • Adding overdose and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome as reportable conditions to increase data collection.
  • Allowing pharmacists to partner with other organizations to increase access to naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug.
  • Permitting immediate temporary rescheduling of all fentanyl derivatives to align with the federal DEA standards.
  • Expanding the advanced body scanner pilot program currently in place at Wernersville used on people reentering the facility.
  • Waiving the face-to-face physician requirement for Narcotic Treatment Program admissions.
  • Expanding access to Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
  • Waiving annual licensing requirements for high-performing drug and alcohol treatment facilities.
  • Waiving the fee provided for in statue for birth certificates who request a good-cause waiver affected by OUD.
  • Waiving separate licensing requirements for hospitals and emergency departments to expand access to drug and alcohol treatment.