Governor Wolf Visits Centers of Excellence, Touts Strides Made in 2016-17 Budget to Combat Opioid Epidemic

August 04, 2016

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf and Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas visited two Centers of Excellence today to discuss the significant strides made in the 2016-17 budget to combat the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic in Pennsylvania. The Wolf Administration successfully secured the necessary funding for DHS to open 20 Centers of Excellence (COEs) statewide by October 1, 2016.

“I am thrilled that by working with Republicans and Democrats, we have achieved this level of funding for our fight against this public health crisis,” said Governor Wolf. “Now that this year’s budget is complete, it is imperative that we all continue working together to focus on Pennsylvania’s opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic. While the budget allows us to expand treatment for individuals suffering from addiction, we can and should do more to address this matter that is plaguing all of our communities. My administration will keep its focus on this issue and I will continue preparing for the upcoming special session.”

“The Centers for Excellence will provide vital, potentially life-saving coordination of care for Pennsylvanians struggling with the disease of addiction,” said Secretary Dallas. “Rather than just treating a person’s addiction, DHS will treat the entire patient through team-based treatment, with the explicit goal of integrating behavioral health and primary care and, when necessary, evidence-based medication assisted treatment. As our strategy involves both behavioral therapy and FDA-approved medication that individuals take to help curb cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms, it can improve the odds of recovery.”

Governor Wolf and Secretary Dallas visited Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Allegheny County and Esper Treatment Center in Erie.

“Our mission to heal the body, mind, and spirit of people suffering from addictive disease is greatly enhanced by this progressive program to coordinate care between physical, behavioral and addictive treatment providers,” said Paul Bacharach, President and CEO of Gateway. “We applaud the governor and the legislature for their willingness to work cooperatively in creating and funding this effort to reverse the growth of the prescription drug/opioid epidemic and the toll that it has taken on so many individuals and their loved ones.”

“Esper Treatment Center is honored to be selected as a Center of Excellence within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Jennifer Esper, President, Director, and CEO of Esper Treatment Center. “Our facility has 14 years of experience helping those that suffer from opiate addiction start on the path to recovery. We have the resources and the ability to help those who suffer not only with addiction but other external factors that can hinder their ability to start the process of recovery. We applaud all those individuals who are courageous enough to take the first step towards bettering their lives, and we will support them and help them on their journey as we always have. It is our hope that we can be the conduit for change and help put an end to this awful epidemic.”

The current path of treatment for people who have opioid-related substance use disorders can be confusing and difficult to navigate. The links between behavioral health treatment and physical health treatment are often broken or not made at all. This means people may drop out of treatment after they receive care for their physical symptoms, bypassing critical components of care such as behavioral therapies and connection to community supports that can lead to meaningful recovery from substance use disorder.

The Centers of Excellence are a central, efficient hub around which treatment revolves. These centers will have navigators to assist people with opioid-related substance use disorders though the medical system, and ensure they receive behavioral and physical health care, as well as any evidence-based medication-assisted treatment needed.

The use of medication (like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone), coupled with wrap-around supportive services, can prevent people from relapsing and improve their chances for recovery, ultimately driving the aforementioned statistics in the opposite direction.

The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs will license the COEs as drug and alcohol providers that provide one of the three FDA-approved medications.

DHS is currently working with its actuaries to determine whether additional COEs can be funded by analyzing the impact they will have on the physical and behavioral health Medicaid managed care rates.

For more information about the Centers of Excellence, visit

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