In Bethlehem and Scranton, Governor Wolf Hosts Roundtables to Address Pennsylvania’s Opioid Epidemic

June 10, 2016

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf was joined by legislators, local officials, law enforcement, and health care professionals at two roundtables in Bethlehem and Scranton today. The groups discussed local and statewide efforts to lead the nation in combating the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic in Pennsylvania.

In an effort to confront this epidemic collaboratively, Governor Wolf is conducting roundtables statewide to discuss the initiatives of his administration, the state legislature, county agencies, treatment centers, hospitals, and medical schools. The Wolf Administration is eager to engage in these local conversations in order to listen to local officials about the challenges that they are facing.

“Fighting Pennsylvania’s opioid and heroin epidemic is a top priority for my administration,” said Governor Wolf. “These roundtables are an opportunity to work collaboratively with the General Assembly and community leaders to ensure Pennsylvania leads the nation in the fight to combat the opioid abuse and heroin use crisis.”

At Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Governor Wolf was joined by Sen. Boscola, Rep. Samuelson, Rep. McNeill, Rep. Schweyer, Rep. Hahn, Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller, Northampton County Executive John Brown, Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez, Bethlehem Chief of Police Mark DiLuzio, and numerous other local elected officials, public safety officers, coroners, public defenders, health officials, and advocates.

“As I learned through Senate hearings I held on this issue earlier this year, this problem no longer affects someone from somewhere else,” said Senator Lisa Boscola. “It’s our neighbor who was injured at work and became addicted to pain killers or it’s the kid next door who tried some Oxycontin that a friend stole from their parent’s medicine cabinet and sold them at school.

“Apart from the devastating human toll, this drug epidemic is spurring a new wave of crime, swelling our prisons and straining limited state and county treatment resources.  I commend Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration for their aggressive, cooperative and comprehensive statewide approach to this deadly problem.”

“Through these forums, Governor Wolf is bringing focus to the challenges communities face in addressing addiction,” Rep. Samuelson said. “Our discussion today highlighted the need to expand treatment options, and the governor’s budget request includes $34 million in new funding for treatment programs.”

At Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, Governor Wolf was joined by Sen. Blake, Rep. Carroll, Rep. Boback, Rep. Flynn, Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, Scranton Police Chief Carl Graziano, Lackawanna County District Attorney Shane Scanlon, Judge Joanne Corbett, Judge Paul Keeler, Scranton City Council President Joe Wechsler, North Pocono School District Superintendent Bryan McGraw, Superintendent of Scranton School District Alexis Kirijan, among other local officials.

“I want to thank Governor Wolf for his visit to the Commonwealth Medical College to discuss the opioid and heroin epidemic that is gripping our state,” said Senator Blake. “The governor engaged several people from law enforcement, health care, education, the judiciary, pharmacists and local government officials to hear what we are doing here in Northeast PA to combat this illness and to treat those afflicted with opioid addiction. He also explained the multi-pronged initiatives that his administration is taking up to help Pennsylvanians, including more funding for treatment and beds; an electronic prescription drug monitoring system; expanding access to Naloxone to save lives; enhancing methods in medical education; providing school-aged children opioid awareness programs; and establishing a statewide prescription drug take-back program. I commend Governor Wolf for his statewide emphasis on this problem and I’m glad to join him in the fight against addiction and for our families.”

The Wolf Administration hopes that these discussions are just the beginning of a larger conversation with both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate as well as local officials, law enforcement, emergency responders, and healthcare professionals.

“I look forward to continue working collaboratively with the General Assembly and community leaders to ensure Pennsylvania leads the nation in the fight to combat the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic,” said Governor Wolf. “The magnitude of the addiction and overdose death epidemic in Pennsylvania is shocking: at least seven Pennsylvanians die every day from a drug overdose. With nearly 2,500 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2014 and estimates that the 2015 total will be higher, a collaborative effort on the federal, state, and local levels is crucial in combating this crisis.”

Some of the administration’s initiatives in the fight against heroin include: signing a statewide standing order for naloxone, making it possible for all Pennsylvanians to access this life-saving drug; equipping the Pennsylvania State Police with naloxone so that those troopers who are first on the scene of an overdose can have another tool on-hand during these emergencies; partnering with Adapt Pharma to make Narcan available to public high schools across the state at no cost; developing the ABC-MAP prescription drug monitoring program to detect and prevent prescription fraud and abuse, which contribute to addiction; and appointing a director for the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) Office, who will work to ensure that the PDMP meets its goal of assisting healthcare professionals in identifying patients that would benefit from treatment.

In an effort to curtail drug addiction and curb the supply of excess drugs that can be used illicitly, the Department of Health is leading an effort to build upon the opioid prescribing guidelines already created, including specialty specific guidelines for emergency department providers, dentists, obstetricians and gynecologists, and pharmacists. These guidelines give healthcare providers direction for safe and effective pain relief practices, with greater emphasis on non-opioid therapies and greater caution to prevent addiction and diversion. In addition, the DOH recently joined dozens of healthcare organizations, medical experts, and consumer advocacy groups in signing petitions requesting changes to federal pain management requirements that are believed to foster dangerous prescribing practices.

The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs has led a statewide initiative to get naloxone into the hands of municipal police departments. To date, more than 320 municipal police departments are equipped with naloxone, and those departments have reversed more than 900 overdoses as a result of that effort. DDAP also has developed a “warm hand-off” policy, mandating county-level drug and alcohol administrators to create processes whereby overdose survivors are taken directly from the emergency department to a licensed drug treatment provider. In some areas of the Commonwealth, early reports indicate as many as 50 percent to 70 percent of overdose survivors are getting into treatment immediately through this process. Under DDAP’s leadership, Pennsylvania’s Prescription Drug Take-Back Program is helping communities properly dispose of unused and unwanted prescriptions. To date, there are nearly 450 take-back boxes located at police stations across Pennsylvania. In 2015, more than 56,000 pounds of prescription drugs were taken back and destroyed.

Governor Wolf’s decision to expand Medicaid eligibility in Pennsylvania under the Affordable Care Act has greatly increased access to treatment services for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.

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