In Washington and Westmoreland Counties, Governor Wolf Hosts Roundtables to Address Pennsylvania’s Opioid Epidemic

June 03, 2016

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf was joined by legislators, local officials, law enforcement, and health care professionals at two roundtables in Washington and Westmoreland counties 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 Courthouse Square in Washington, Governor Wolf was joined by Sen. Camera Bartolotta, Rep. Brandon Neuman, Rep. Pam Snyder, County Commissioner Diana Irey-Vaughn, County Commissioner Larry Maggi, County Commissioner Harlan Shober, District Attorney Gene Vittone, Mayor Scott Putnam, Chief of Police Bob Wilson, and numerous health and public safety officials.

“The impact of this public health problem is truly staggering, and it is critical that we delve further into the issues that have led to this crisis in order to find a solution,” said Senator Camera Bartolotta. “I am thankful our Commonwealth is taking a closer look at the local impact of this crisis as we work to prevent drug addiction from claiming even more victims.”

At the Saint Vincent College’s Fred Rogers Center in Latrobe, Governor Wolf was joined by Sen. Kim Ward, Rep. Joe Petrarca, Rep. Eric Nelson, Rep. Ted Harhai, Rep. Mike Reese, Commissioner Ted Kopas, District Attorney John Peck, and Mayor Rosemarie Wolford, among other local officials.

“Community leaders have worked hard to raise awareness to the dangerous drug epidemic in Westmoreland County, but it will take a comprehensive commitment from all of us to find a workable solution to fixing it,” said Senator Kim Ward.

“We are realizing that opioid addiction is a primary cause of the serious prevalent drug problems and deaths in our area. This roundtable discussion is an attempt to develop a plan to put pressure on doctors to manage the prescription piece of the problem, and for the rest of us to step up rehabilitation and improve criminal justice efforts to stem the tide of this destruction,” said Rep. Joe Petrarca. “I applaud Governor Wolf for focusing on this issue and for coming to Latrobe today, as we try to combat this terrible situation.”

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 health care 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.”

“I applaud the governor for taking the time to listen to people on the front line of the opioid and heroin epidemic,” said Rep. Brandon Neuman, D/Washington. “We need to continue to explore ways to help people overcome their addictions and to prevent the next generation from ever becoming addicted.”

Neuman said there are roughly 40,000 heroin users in the state, the third-highest proportion in the nation, and nine Pennsylvanians die each day of drug overdoses.

“More than 23 million Americans require some kind of treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, and we must face reality about the resources needed to combat addiction, which can happen to anyone.”

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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