Wolf signs disaster emergency in opioid crisis

Cheryl Sanders
January 12, 2018

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday declared the escalating opioid crisis a public health emergency.

"It is automatic when a governor issues a proclamation of emergency, this section of the Law 6107 applies, where it prohibits anyone from carrying a firearm on any public streets or any public property during that emergency", he said.

"Just as we are not going to simply arrest our way out of this problem - and absolutely need outreach, prevention, and enhanced treatment - we can not just simply treat our way out of it either", he said. "It hits every age level, every creed, color and income level".

The declaration will mark the first time in state history such a declaration is made for a public health crisis.

There are several reclassifications under the declaration. "As the devastating effects of this epidemic continue to ravage communities in Pennsylvania, today's declaration sends a clear message that more work remains to be done".

"They are disease, s they are not a moral failing and this disease in Pennsylvania has reached this epidemic proportion", said Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's acting secretary of health and physician general.

Prevention is the only way to get the crisis under control using a public health emergency model, said Michael R. Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Governor Wolf's disaster declaration will enable state agencies to waive regulations, lowering barriers to treatment.

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.

The declaration is valid for 90 days because that is the maximum allowed under the state Constitution. The administration said Wagner is using the opioid crisis to advance his political agenda.

States also have put an emphasis on law enforcement, as the crisis shifts from abuse of legally prescribed drugs to illicit opioids such as heroin and unprescribed fentanyl, Stamp said.

According to the CDC, Pennsylvania had the fourth highest opioid overdose death rate in the country in 2016 - with more than 45-hundred lives lost.

Wolf acknowledged that the declaration is not a "silver bullet", but hoped it would streamline the state's attack.

We know that this crisis has taken far too many lives.

The declaration was accompanied by a number of steps, including allowing emergency responders to leave behind the overdose antidote naloxone when responding to a call for help and the patient declines transportation to a hospital.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, in a written statement reacting to Wolf's announcement, called it an important step.

"I look forward to working with the governor in the coming weeks and months, along with our partners in the state Legislature, to mobilize the resources and additional tools needed to address the scourge of opioids", Kenney said in a release.

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