BLOG: Fighting the Opioid Epidemic in the 2016-17 Budget

By: Gary Tennis, Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs

February 16, 2016

The numbers are grim:

  • Nearly 2,500 drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2014. When the final number for 2015 is tallied, we expect even more.
  • At least seven people die each day in the commonwealth from drug overdose, which has become the top cause of accidental death.
  • Addiction affects at least one in four families.
  • The drug treatment infrastructure is so strained that demand for treatment beds is outstripping resources. Nationally, funding is available to treat only about 1 of every 10 people who need treatment.

In short, Pennsylvania is in the midst of its worst health care crisis in our lifetime.


In his 2015-16 budget, Governor Wolf courageously chose the road less traveled, acknowledging the severity of the opioid crisis with an increase of $5 million to DDAP to treat our sickest Pennsylvanians.

But without Governor Wolf’s proposed 2016-17 budget, the resources dedicated to fighting this epidemic will be in jeopardy: those Pennsylvanians in the throes of addiction who need and want treatment will be in jeopardy, and our prevention efforts aimed at the commonwealth’s young people will be stymied.


Governor Wolf’s proposed 2016-17 budget provides more than $34 million to treat more than 11,250 new individuals with substance use disorder. The Department of Human Services will provide 25 new Health Homes for individuals with substance use disorder, providing medication-assisted treatment and appropriate wraparound services, such as cognitive-based therapies. After this first phase of implementation, there will be a push for 25 more health homes that would have the capacity to treat 22,500 individuals total.

Those who rely on this funding to do the hard, necessary work of saving lives from addiction, along with the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who are affected by the disease of addiction, must openly and vocally support and push for passage of the governor’s 2016-17 plan to balance the budget.

Last month, the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) released its five-year projections of state revenues and expenditures for 2015-16 through 2020-21. The IFO warned that without corrective action, the commonwealth is facing a nearly $1.9 billion structural deficit for 2016-17. Gov. Wolf is rightfully steadfast in his commitment to a balanced budget — unless we have new revenues, the state has no choice but to endure massive cuts to education and human services, which directly affects drug and alcohol programs.


Any cuts to funding for drug and alcohol programs will only exacerbate the current opioid epidemic. In fact, years of inadequate funding of drug and alcohol programs have contributed to the epidemic we face today. If drug and alcohol funds are cut because we can’t balance a budget with new revenues, we will make an already tragic time in our history even worse.

Ultimately, the General Assembly will be tasked with deciding whether drug and alcohol services are adequately funded.

Thus those human service organizations that depend on state funding to help them achieve their mission must rally around the governor. Without their vocal support for Gov. Wolf’s revenue plan, they and the Pennsylvanians they serve are at terrible risk. Without adequate funding, the efforts of these organizations are greatly hampered.

Funding cuts to drug and alcohol programs will haunt us for years to come. Effective, evidence-based prevention programs that receive state funding will see immediate effects — those relying solely on state funds may be forced to close, resulting in more of our children falling into drug abuse and addiction, and even dying.

The Wolf Administration is committed to combatting the opioid epidemic. But much work remains. Pennsylvania needs Governor Wolf’s 2016-17 budget; without new revenues to pay for resources to deal with this devastating epidemic, the prospect of reversing a steadily rising number of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania is grim.



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