Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
World | By Paul Elliott

Governor declares opioid emergency in PA

Governor declares opioid emergency in PA

In Lancaster County, 165 people died from drug overdoses a year ago - majority using prescription painkillers, heroin or fentanyl, according to county coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni. So, while he applauds any steps taken to deal with the epidemic, "we do not see a shift in our approach from that perspective".

"I don't take this action lightly", Wolf said. "So this allows them to do that", Rosser said.

Wolf signed a statewide disaster declaration in Harrisburg.

"One of the main things is if we can get people into treatment, hopefully we can help them, and obviously get them onto the path of living a more healthy life", said Dahlkemper. "The vast majority of them were from fentanyl", said Cook.

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 of health and public safety agencies.

Yoder said Wolf's announcement "many opportunities for improvement" in the methods for dealing with drug-use and overdose issues.

"We know that this crisis does not discriminate", Wolf said. Still, Wolf and others acknowledged the disaster declaration is no "silver bullet" that will solve the crisis. 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.

Last year, Philadelphia began implementing recommendations from Mayor Jim Kenney's Heroin Task Force, including increasing access to medicine-assisted treatment and court diversion programs.

The emergency proclamation covers 90 days because that's the maximum allowed by law. In Alaska, for example, when there was no money to buy deactivation pouches for people to dispose of unneeded painkillers, the state was able to persuade a supplier to provide 25,000 free pouches, said Andy Jones, deputy incident commander for Alaska's opioid response team.

Republican Scott Wagner said his problem isn't about opioids, though.

The state's top prosecutor, Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, called Wolf's action an important step. Our arrests of medical personnel and others for illegally diverting prescription drugs are up 72 percent.

Moving fentanyl derivatives into a category of drugs which has no medical objective, giving law enforcement better tools to prosecute illegal sale of fentanyl, which is much stronger than heroin and is considered a major factor in the ongoing surge of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania.

District Attorney Craig Stedman said law enforcement was largely absent from the governor's speech.

The crisis hit Butler County particularly hard in 2017.

"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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