Pennsylvania declares opioid crisis a 'state disaster'

Pennsylvania declares opioid crisis a 'state disaster'

With his declaration Wednesday of a statewide disaster over the opioid abuse epidemic, Gov. Tom Wolf made Pennsylvania the eighth state in the country to take such a step.

The move will allow his administration to use the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to coordinate effort between agencies to respond to the crisis for at least three months, he said.

The examples of the other states that declared statewide emergencies show some promise of easing the immediate problem, but cutting red tape and improving agency collaboration are only the first steps in a long-term effort to get the crisis under control, their experiences show.

"These stories are horrific", Wolf said.

Lawmakers intend to chime in with their own ideas about how to continue fighting the crisis, said state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks County, and state Rep. Matt Baker, R-Bradford County, in a joint statement.

Making it easier for pharmacists to partner with organizations such as treatment centers and prisons to provide them with naloxone, a drug which can reverse an overdose.

The proliferation of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid designed for use in medical settings that can cause an overdose in minuscule amounts, has been a principal cause in large jumps in overdoses and deaths. In 2016, heroin and opioid drug overdoses claimed 4,642 lives in the state.

Wolf said the declaration includes 13 "key initiatives", which include enhancing coordination and data collection, speeding up and expanding access to treatment, changes to rules for EMTs responding to reported overdoses, and expanded roles for nurse practitioners who deal with addicts seeking recovery services, Wolf said Wedesday afternoon.

"The declaration enables us to waive requirements on a broad basis without the need for those providers to submit specific requests to us", she said. Pennsylvania's opioid addiction rate is about twice the national average. New laws can not be created under the emergency.

For instance, the state now requires that a person seeking addiction treatment first have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor.

Fees to have a duplicate birth certificate produced will be waived.

One of the challenges first responders face when giving overdose victims the opiod-reversal drug nalaxone, is not being able to get them into treatment right away.

Mango has focused on addressing the Pennsylvania opioid crisis since the very beginning of his campaign. His administration also provided funding to create treatment centers of excellence and increase access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan.

"The opioid and heroin crisis has rightfully drawn bipartisan attention in Congress and all levels of government, with President Trump having already taken the extraordinary step of declaring a nationwide public health emergency". That, she said, "will hopefully help to identify some more creative solutions that we can implement in the future". Before the declaration, law enforcement would see the crisis as a problem of not enough money for police, just as the treatment community would argue it's a crisis of insufficient inpatient and outpatient resources, he said.