Governor Tom Wolf Addresses Opioid Epidemic at the National Academy for State Health Policy Conference

October 18, 2016

Harrisburg, PA – Today at the National Academy for State Health Policy 29th Annual Conference, Governor Wolf addressed attendees about battling Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic.

“Over the last few years, heroin and opioid overdoses have become the leading cause of accidental death in Pennsylvania, killing more individuals than motor vehicle accidents – 10 Pennsylvanians per day,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “This disease does not have compassion, or show regard for status, gender, race, or borders. It affects each and every Pennsylvanian, and threatens entire communities throughout our commonwealth”

Governor Wolf discussed the efforts underway by the state to tackle this epidemic head on.

“One of the first things I did when I took office was to push forward with this Medicaid expansion,” said Governor Wolf. “In the year and a half since I took office, expanded Medicaid coverage has led to quality healthcare for over 640,000 people who were previously uninsured. Because of Medicaid expansion, the uninsured population has dropped from 14 percent to 8 percent in only three years and we are providing substance use disorder treatment to 63,000 Pennsylvanians who did not previously have access to care.”

Additionally, the 2015-2016 budget increased funding for treatment centers by more than 20 million dollars. That money will create 45 centers for treatment, allowing nearly 11,000 Pennsylvanians to receive care. These centers integrate behavioral health, primary care and when appropriate, evidence-based medication assisted treatment.

The Department of Health has redesigned the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, an online database that allows prescribers and pharmacists to monitor who is obtaining opioids, and where and how often they were prescribed. This critical tool will support medical professionals in identifying patients struggling with the disease of addiction and getting them the help they need.

We have the opioid reversal antidote naloxone available to all Pennsylvanians through a standing order signed by Physician General Rachel Levine and since November of 2014, more than 1500 opioid overdoses have been reversed by state and local police officers. These officers are not just reviving those who have overdosed – they are also getting people who suffer from substance abuse disorders into treatment – a process known as a warm handoff.

We are helping communities properly dispose of unused and unwanted prescriptions through a drug take-back program. There are nearly 520 take-back boxes located at police stations across Pennsylvania, and we have collected and destroyed over 145,000 pounds of prescription drugs including opioids.

Together, we have taken important steps to stop this crisis in Pennsylvania, but we can do more. Governor Wolf also outlined his legislative priorities to battle the opioid epidemic, including:

  • Strengthen the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so that doctors are required and able to check the system each time they prescribe opioids
  • Better prepare doctors and physicians for prescribing opioids and pain management drugs improving medical school and continuing education curricula on opioids
  • Limit the number of opioids a patient can receive at emergency rooms to a seven-day supply with no refills limit the number of opioids a patient can receive at emergency rooms to a seven-day supply with no refills
  • Require insurance companies to cover abuse deterrent opioids that make it more difficult to abuse these drugs
  • Establish a voluntary directive, to allow patients who do not want to be prescribed opioids to deny or refuse the administration of these drugs

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