Pennsylvania governor to issue disaster declaration for opioid epidemic

Pennsylvania governor to issue disaster declaration for opioid epidemic

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in response to the state's escalating crisis of addiction and overdoses involving heroin and other opioid drugs.

He says Wolf's move to allow officers to issue Naloxone, which can save someone having an overdose, has already saved lives - and law enforcement wants to do more to help.

It's an unusual move - one that is usually only applied to natural disasters.

"I don't take this action lightly".

"We're still losing too many Pennsylvanians, and as long as that's happening, I'm going to continue to look for ways to address this epidemic", Wolf said in the Capitol. It has broken far too many families. Wolf's announcement makes Pennsylvania the eighth state to declare a disaster declaration for opioid abuse.

The declaration is valid for 90 days because that is the maximum allowed under the state Constitution.

Drug treatment facilities are on the front line of the opioid epidemic.

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In 2016, the five states with the highest rate of deaths due to drug overdose were West Virginia (52 per 100,000 people), OH (39.1 per 100,000), New Hampshire (39 per 100,000), Pennsylvania (37.9 per 100,000) and Kentucky (33.5 per 100,000). With the governor's order, the state will waive that requirement so that other health care professionals can give the go-ahead to get people into drug treatment as soon as possible.

Wolf also seeks to limit the availability of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid clinically used to treat pain but clandestinely made in labs and sold on the black market, contributing mightily to overdoses and deaths.

Several regulations will also be waived that officials say will expand access to treatment. The Philadelphia Fire Department will launch an EMS unit this summer that's dedicated to responding specifically to drug overdoses in the city's Kensington and Fairhill neighborhoods. So, while he applauds any steps taken to deal with the epidemic, "we do not see a shift in our approach from that perspective".

Diamantoni said Wednesday there have been some local deaths from overdoses this year, although the number was not immediately available. They're still certifying the final numbers.

And this declaration, according to the Governor, is just one more tool to help restore hope across the commonwealth.

Jennifer Smith, secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said she'll be able to quickly say yes to removing requirements set on the state's 800 treatment providers.

"We know that this crisis does not discriminate", Wolf said. The certificates are often required as proof of residency for insurance and treatment programs and can be a surprising barrier to getting into treatment. Law enforcement officials and Butler County Coroner William Young III have said that most of the deaths can be attributed fentanyl, a potent cousin of morphine.

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