Why Governor Tom Wolf Called a Joint Session to Address the Opioid Epidemic

Governor Tom Wolf and legislators from both sides of the aisle have made addressing the opioid epidemic a top priority. Last year over 3,500 Pennsylvanians died from drug overdose – that is an astonishing 10 deaths a day and up from the more than 2,500 reported deaths in 2014. Pennsylvanians suffering from the disease of addiction cannot afford to wait for solutions. That’s why Governor Tom Wolf and legislative leaders called a Joint Session of the General Assembly to address the members of the House and Senate about our collective efforts to lead the nation in combatting the opioid and heroin crisis facing Pennsylvania.

Governor Wolf said, “After consultation and discussion with legislative leaders, I believe we share the view that we can make the most profound and positive impact for the people of Pennsylvania by dealing with this issue as part of the remainder of the 2015-16 legislative session, rather than calling a special session.”

Why not a special session?

After extensive conversations, Governor Tom Wolf and legislative leaders decided that the most timely and efficient way to make progress in the fight against the opioid epidemic would be to call a joint session, rather than a special session as previously discussed. A special session would require bills to be reintroduced with co-sponsor memos to be circulated, and each new bill would take a minimum of six legislative days to reach the Governor’s desk. Special session committees would also have to be organized to review each new bill before the bill would be called up for a vote in the House or Senate. All told, this would amount to at least a two-week process. Several bills addressing this crisis have already passed the House and Senate in the current legislative session and are positioned to reach the Governor’s desk in a much timelier fashion. A four caucus workgroup has been working diligently throughout the summer to build consensus on these bills, and we are hopeful that by calling for a joint session, we can move many of these to the Governor’s desk for signature without further delay.

What is a joint session?

During the joint session, Governor Wolf will address both the house and the senate this fall about the importance of taking quick action to combat the opioid and heroin crisis . Following his address, Governor Wolf and the legislative leaders will address the opioid epidemic by looking at bills that have already been introduced and started the legislative processes which means that we can more swiftly tackle the opioid epidemic.

What do we hope to achieve the joint session?

Specifically, some of the goals of this legislative season are to require doctors and prescribers to check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Database every time they prescribe, increase education about opioid and pain management for current and future medical professionals, limit the quantities of opioids that can be prescribed in emergency rooms to a patient at one time, require insurance carriers to cover abuse deterrent opioids at the same cost as their non-abuse deterrent counterparts, add opioid misuse to existing public school curriculum on drug and alcohol abuse, and establish a voluntary directive for patients who don’t wish to receive opioids in their medical care.

With 10 people a day in our commonwealth dying from drug overdoses, we cannot afford to stall. This fall, Governor Wolf and the legislature will make sure that battling the opioid epidemic is a top priority.

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