The fight over opioids isn’t going away – but these 2 bills are encouraging | Wednesday Morning Coffee

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Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

We’ve said it before – and we’ll say it again: From the courthouse to the halls of state government — and seemingly everywhere in-between — Pennsylvania has made fighting the scourge of opioid abuse a priority over the last few years. And while there’s some evidence to show that effort is paying dividends, Pennsylvania, like every other state in the nation, has its work cut out for it.

So it was encouraging Tuesday to see a pair of state Senate committees green-lighting bills that would at least put more tools in the respective toolboxes of those working to put a dent in the abuse epidemic. Both were sponsored by freshman state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, a York County Republican, who may have Scott Wagner’s old seat, but so far appears to not share any of his terrible ideas to combat abuse.

On Tuesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee reported out Phillips-Hill’s proposal (SB223) to allow first responders and EMS crews to leave a dose of the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone with family members or friends who are caring for a recent overdose victim.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Health & Human Services Committee approved a Phillips-Hill sponsored measure (SB432) allowing Medicaid managed care organizations to have access to the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

“We have a major opioid problem and these bills are representative of what I’ve heard locally,” Phillips-Hill said in a statement. “I’m grateful to both committees for their recognition of the importance of these bills to assist in combating our ever-increasing opioid problem both in York County and across the commonwealth.”

Both bills now head to the full Senate for a vote.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf legged it to Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon to tell attendees at the annual BIO Conference all about the state’s efforts to fight the epidemic. That includes the administration’s statewide disaster declaration, as well as a Medicaid expansion that allowed more Pennsylvanians to access treatment.

Wolf also touted the state’s Overdose Information Network, which “collects data about overdoses, opioid seizures, locations of opioid-related incidents and other opioid-related information from more than 1,000 police stations and 300 other agencies,” the administration said in a statement.

“In Pennsylvania, we’re serious about ending the opioid crisis and we’re always looking for new ideas,” Wolf said in that statement. “Though some communities reported a drop in overdoses in 2018, we still have much work to do. I’ll continue to do everything in my power to help address this crisis.”

That’s borne out by the numbers — and we laid those out for you last month.

According to data compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 2,548 opioid-involved deaths statewide in 2017, for a rate of 21.2 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s higher than the national average of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 people, the national data showed.

“In 2013, prescription opioids were the underlying cause of death in every one of two overdose deaths” in Pennsylvania, according to the institute. By 2017, the main cause of death was due to synthetic opioids — primarily from fentanyl. Deaths from synthetic opioids rose seventeen-fold, from 108 reported deaths in 2013 to 1,982 deaths by 2017, the national data indicated.

Overdose deaths from heroin reached a peak of 926 deaths in 2016, the national data showed. By 2017, the state recorded a more than 10 percent reduction, to 819 deaths.

And both Wolf and Phillips-Hill are correct in their assertions that the prescription drugs monitoring database has paid dividends.

According to a June 5, 2018 story by The Morning Call of Allentown, opioid prescriptions in Pennsylvania declined by 14 percent between 2016 and 2017. That was a sharper reduction than the nationwide average, the newspaper reported.

According to the national data, Pennsylvania providers wrote 57.7 prescriptions for every 100 people, compared to the national average of 58.7 prescriptions per 100 people. That’s a more than 30 percent decrease from a 2012 high of 83.3 opioid prescriptions per 100 people.

That showed in a decline in prescription-related deaths, which fell from a high of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 to 4.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, the national data showed.

As Tuesday reminded us, there’s no shortage of nonsensical, manufactured outrageto be found under the Capitol dome. Fighting opioid abuse is — and should be — one of those areas where well-intentioned people can disagree over means, but the ultimate end, trying to keep people from dying, should override every other concern.

So it was nice to see two York Countians — from opposite ends of the political spectrum — speaking with one voice on this key issue.

Even if they may not have necessarily known they were doing it.

Our Stuff.
With Tuesday’s swearing-in of state Rep. Marci Mustello, R-Butler, the ranks of women in the state House swelled to an historic high of 54 membersStephen Caruso reports. But as we’re reminded, women only comprise slightly more than a quarter of the 203-member chamber.

Caruso also has the story on a House bill banning compulsory non-disclosure agreements in workplace sexual harassment cases. Caruso also has a look at some election reform bills now making the rounds of the state House and Senate.

Advocates called for the passage of two bills that would increase state funding for affordable housing, Sarah Anne Hughes reports.

And legislation reauthorizing subsidies for the parents of adult foster children also cleared a key Senate committee hurdle on Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, crossed over to vote with Democrats to approve a bill offering a path to citizenship for Dreamers, our Washington Bureau Chief, Robin Bravender, reports.

On our Commentary Page, the Education Law Center takes a hard look at state support for public education. And Opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan offers his take on the current state of the abortion debate.

Elsewhere.
Establishment Democrats in Camden County, N.J. easily fended off progressive challengers during Tuesday’s primary, the Inquirer reports.
PennLive has the story on a House hearing on a bill that would require Pa. schoolchildren to start their school careers earlier.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto will honor Dick’s Sporting Goods for halting gun sales, The Post-Gazette reports.
Pennsylvania is moving to take over the federal Obamacare exchange, the Associated Press reports (via The Tribune-Review).
The state’s casino industry is asking a court to halt Pennsylvania Lottery games that they say are too much like casino games, the AP also reports (via The Morning Call).

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

Thousands of homes in Philadelphia are headed for foreclosure — amidst complete chaos in the city’s court system, BillyPenn reports.
Pa. lawmakers want to clamp down on ‘legally ambiguous’ skill games, the PA Post reports.
Joe Biden has asked (rhetorically, we presume) if President Donald Trump knows that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizensPolitico reports.
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, used his first speech on the Senate floor to hammer the White House over its foreign policyRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate both gavel in at 11 a.m. today.
9 a.m.:  Rep. Dan (could be Brett) MillerSens. Maria Colette and Dan Laughlinadvocate for the creation of a Family Medical Leave plan.
9:30 a.m., LG’s Porch: In a hint of things to come Senate Dems push for gun reforms.
10 a.m,. Media Center: Reps. JoAnna McClinton and Tedd Nesbit call for automatic criminal record expungements.
11 a.m., Main Rotunda: Adult-use cannabis rally. Event is BYOD(oritos).
12:30 p.m., Main Rotunda: Rally for an accurate Census 2020 count. Or for the Trump administration officials reading, that’s “Eso significa contar a todos; ciudadano y no ciudadano por igual.” 
1:30 p.m., Main Rotunda: Subject to change, but a discrimination protest rally (anti-, we presume).
2:30 p.m., Main Rotunda: Simply enormous Gun Violence Awareness Day rally.

WolfWatch.
Gov. Tom Wolf
 headlines a 2:30 p.m. Capitol rally against gun violence as a part of National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
7:30 am.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Todd Polinchock
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Josh Kail
Hit both breakfasts, and you’re out $500, and, probably, a visit to your cardiologist.

Heavy Rotation.
In honor of mainman Ian Hunter’s 80th birthday this past Monday, here’s Mott the Hoople, and “All the Young Dudes.” Sounds as great as ever.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link. 
Baltimore beat Texas 12-11 on Tuesday night. The Os are still 19-41 on the season. But we’ll take it.

And now you’re up to date. 

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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