Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday declared heroin and opioid drug addiction to be a statewide disaster emergency, an unprecedented step for a public health situation and one he said will allow his administration to better fight the worsening crisis. He called the declaration sloppy, pointing to a state statute that prohibits carrying a firearm in public during an emergency without a concealed carry permit or hunting license.
"Pennsylvania has a big problem, and we need to confront it", Wolf said. "It hits every age level, every creed, color and income level".
The declaration is the first-of-its-kind for a public health emergency in Pennsylvania and will utilize a command center at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to track progress and enhance coordination. "We really applaud the effort and the focus on the heroin and opioid epidemic and really think this could be a major breakthrough to getting people they need and deserve in their recovery", said Jason Kisielewski.
There are several reclassifications under the declaration. But Butler, with 35 fatal overdoses in the city limits past year, was by far municipality with the most opioid-related deaths.
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"The opioid crisis has become a leading health concern in Pennsylvania and across the entire country. It is the worst public health crisis that we have faced in Pennsylvania". Strengthening coordination and data sharing between state agencies, increasing the amount of first responders, and expanding treatment options, according to The Hill.
The proclamation will also let emergency responders leave the overdose antidote naloxone behind when responding to a call for help, and make it easier for medical professionals to get people into treatment more quickly.
The initiatives expand access to the prescription drug monitoring program, make overdoses and withdrawal symptoms in infants reportable to the State Health Department and will speed up and expand access to treatment.
Such declarations, normally used in response to natural disasters, are limited by law to 90 days. Individual agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have devoted many resources to the crisis, but the administration, he said, has failed to articulate a strategic plan.
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More than 4,600 Pennsylvanians died from drug overdoses in 2016. The Reading Eagle reported last month that Wernersville CCC had 31 nonfatal overdoses in the 21 months that ended November 4, more than any other halfway house in the state.
"This declaration while it's not a silver bullet".
The attorney general said he's made fighting the opioid crisis his top priority and that's resulted in arrests of, on average, more than four drug dealers a day.
The House Republican chairs of the human services and health committee said Wolf's announcement spelled out "positive steps".
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"We look forward to working with the governor and the Senate to help those in the Commonwealth struggling with addiction".