Pa. governor declares statewide disaster for opioid epidemic


Governor Tom Wolf signed a statewide disaster emergency declaration for the heroin and opioid epidemic.

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. According to preliminary data cited by the governor, that number grew to 5,260 in 2017.

The announcement comes as Pennsylvania is expected to report another year of increasing overdose deaths.

In 2016, the five states with the highest rate of deaths due to drug overdose were West Virginia (52 per 100,000 people), OH (39.1 per 100,000), New Hampshire (39 per 100,000), Pennsylvania (37.9 per 100,000) and Kentucky (33.5 per 100,000).

"It's imperative that we use every tool to contain and eradicate this public health crisis", Wolf said.

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".

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

Jennifer Smith, secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said she'll be able to quickly say yes to removing requirements set on the state's 800 treatment providers.

For instance, the state now requires that a person seeking addiction treatment first have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor. Officials have also been mulling establishing the nation's first safe-injection site, where users could take drugs in a monitored environment.

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"Our role is really focused in on doing the things we normally do in any disaster, whether it's gathering information from a situation awareness perspective, working with state agencies identifying problems, and working with them on what they have, the ability to provide the resources to solve those problems", said Rick Flinn, director of PEMA.

She says President Donald Trump's federal declaration didn't have a noticeable impact, and she worries that the state's effort will also fall short. Pennsylvania was the 49th state in the country to get a drug monitoring program in place, he said.

"This declaration while it's not a silver bullet".

The emergency proclamation covers 90 days because that's the maximum allowed by law. "We know that this crisis has taken far too many lives".

"As the devastating effects of this epidemic continue to ravage communities in Pennsylvania, today's declaration sends a clear message that more work remains to be done", he said.

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

He says Wolf's move to allow officers to issue Naloxone, which can save someone having an overdose, has already saved lives - and law enforcement wants to do more to help.

Drug treatment facilities are on the front line of the opioid epidemic.

The Pennsylvania physician general will reclassify fentanyl and similar drugs as Schedule 1 narcotics to limit access and open drug dealers to steep criminal penalties. Our arrests of medical personnel and others for illegally diverting prescription drugs are up 72 percent.