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Pennsylvania heroin and opioid epidemic a disaster, governor says

12 January 2018

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday declared the escalating opioid crisis a public health emergency. It's the first time this type of issue has been deemed a public health emergency.

"Those that we have lost are not just numbers", said Wolf. "It hits every age level, every creed, color and income level".

The declaration is the first-of-its-kind for a public health emergency in Pennsylvania and will utilize a command center at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to track progress and enhance coordination of health and public safety agencies.

The existing naloxone standing order and funding for naloxone to first responders has allowed for more than 5,000 lives to be saved, the release says.

There are several reclassifications under the declaration.

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The move is appropriate, though, considering the seriousness of the problem, "the worst public health crisis we've faced" in a generation, she said.

Wolf said Pennsylvania's effort to combat the crisis has been bipartisan, with both parties agreeing on the severity of the crisis and cooperating.

Waiving separate licensing requirements for hospitals and emergency departments to expand access to drug and alcohol treatment.

The administration issued a fact sheet Wednesday outlining state efforts, including revamping the drug monitoring program, making naloxone available to all residents who want it, setting prescription guidelines and developing new instruction on opioids at state medical schools.

Jennifer Smith, acting secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said one that has sometimes slowed access to treatment is a requirement that people reaching certain points in the system must meet face-to-face with a physician. Law enforcement officials and Butler County Coroner William Young III have said that most of the deaths can be attributed fentanyl, a potent cousin of morphine.

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"We know that this crisis has taken far too many lives, it has broken far too many families, it has decimated far too many communities", Wolf said.

Wolf acknowledged that the move "isn't a silver bullet" to solve the crisis. The state's rate of drug overdoses has been more than twice the national average, and preliminary data indicates the number of overdose deaths rose again past year.

The attorney general said he's made fighting the opioid crisis his top priority and that's resulted in arrests of, on average, more than four drug dealers a day. For as little as $3, you can help us.

More than 4,600 Pennsylvanians died from drug overdoses in 2016.

CCAP Human Services Committee Chair and Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick explained, "This downward spiraling trend in substance abuse has become a major cost driver across state and county budgets". Since taking office, the Governor has provided funding to implement 45 Centers of Excellence, launched a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and provided law enforcement, first responders, and schools with naloxone, reversing almost 5,000 heroin and opioid overdoses.

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Pennsylvania heroin and opioid epidemic a disaster, governor says