Amid pandemic, Wolf signs 11th renewal of opioid disaster declaration

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Gov. Tom Wolf renewed the state’s opioid disaster declaration for an 11th time on Wednesday, saying the work to combat opioid abuse continues, even as the state works to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The work that is enabled by this declaration is vital to saving the lives of so many Pennsylvanians, providing education and treatment, and advancing initiatives across the state to continue to battle this epidemic. This work is no less important during [COVID-19] and I am grateful for all those dedicated professionals who continue the drumbeat of compassionate care and work toward ending this crisis.”

The declaration, which Wolf has renewed every 90 days since January 2018, gives the state additional leeway to combat substance abuse.

“As the commonwealth continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing our fight against the opioid epidemic has never been more important,” Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith said in a statement. “Governor Wolf’s 11th renewal of the disaster declaration shows his unwavering commitment to support individuals suffering from substance use disorder and focusing resources to support the drug and alcohol community.”

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On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine signed an updated naloxone standing order permitting community-based organizations to provide naloxone by mail. The order comes even as Congress has demanded answers from the U.S. Postal Service for internal reorganization moves that have delayed the delivery of medications and other critical supplies.

Pennsylvanians can continue to obtain naloxone at a pharmacy under a standing order Levine issued in 2018, the administration said.

“The opioid crisis continues for those with the disease of addiction, our communities and our state,” Levine said. “Renewing the disaster declaration allows us to continue our efforts to ensure that we are helping those in need. Recovery works, and treatment is possible for those with this disease.”

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The administration cited progress in fighting the pandemic that includes the following:

  • The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program has reduced opioid prescriptions by 34 percent and has virtually eliminated doctor shopping.
  • The number of people receiving high dosages of opioids (defined as greater than 90 morphine milligram equivalents per day) has dropped 53 percent since the PDMP launched in August 2016.
  • The Opioid Data Dashboard and Data Dashboard 2.0 has provided public-facing data regarding prevention, rescue and treatment.
  • 11 Pennsylvania Coordinated Medication Assisted Treatment (PacMAT) programs are serving as part of a hub-and-spoke model to provide evidence-based treatment to people where they live, with just under $26 million dedicated into the centers.
  • More than 45 Centers of Excellence, administered by the Department of Human Services, provide coordinated, evidence-based treatment to people with an opioid use disorder covered by Medicaid. The COEs have treated more than 32,500 people since first launching in 2016.
  • The waiver of birth certificate fees for those with opioid use disorder has helped close to4,800 people, enabling easier entry into recovery programs.
  • A standing order signed by Dr. Rachel Levine in 2018 allowed EMS to leave behind more than 2,400 doses of naloxone.
  • Education has been provided to more than 6,600 prescribers through either online or face-to-face education.
  • 882 drug take-back boxes help Pennsylvanians properly dispose of unwanted drugs, including 178,540 pounds of unwanted drugs in 2019.
John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press