Wolf administration decries ‘devastating’ effects that House GOP budget will have on fight against opioids

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HARRISBURG — Governor Tom Wolf’s representatives from the departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs and Healt and Human Services outlined the “devastating” effects that the House GOP budget will have on the fight against Pennsylvania’s heroin and opioid abuse epidemic and discussed why the governor’s proposed budget is “the right way forward” in the fight against the abuse in a conference call with reporters Monday, the administration announced in a press release.

DDAP Acting Secretary Jennifer Smith, Health Secretary Karen Murphy and DHS deputy secretaries Dr. Dale Adair and Lisa Allen were present on the call, and detailed how reduced funding for naxalone, the prescription drug monitoring program, and behavior health services will have a direct effect on the effort to fight heroin and opioid abuse in the state, the release said.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s recently released report, 4,642 people in Pennsylvania died from heroin and opioid overdoses in 2016. The Pennsylvania Coroners Association reported a preliminary figure of 4,812 overdose deaths in 2016, with numbers likely to increase pending toxicology tests. Both numbers represent a 37 percent increase over 2015 deaths.

“A rising number of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania means we need to get naloxone into the hands of as many first responders and citizens as possible to save lives,” said Smith. “The use of naloxone is a critical piece of an intervention strategy used by the state, combined with other prevention and treatment strategies in place at the state level, and all are negatively impacted by the proposed House Republican budget.

“Governor Wolf recognizes the need to get naloxone out in communities, but the House Republican budget did not include his proposed $10 million for this life-saving drug.”

According to DDAP, more than 3,500 lives were saved using naloxone since 2014.

“We now lose 13 people a day to overdose deaths in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Murphy. “This makes the heroin and opioid crisis the worst public health crisis we’ve ever encountered.”

According to the Wolf administration’s release, the GOP budget also calls for a 6 percent cut in the prescription drug monitoring program, known as the PDMP, which collects information on all filled prescriptions for controlled substances and allows health care providers to safely prescribe controlled substances and get patients into needed treatment.

The program has facilitated more than 8.2 million total patient searches, or 40,000 unique patient searches every day, by PDMP users since its launch in 2016. This resulted in a 97 percent drop in the number of extreme doctor shoppers in the state. Extreme doctor shoppers are those individuals who, on average, obtained 32 opioid prescriptions from 10 different physicians over a 10-month period.

According to DHS, the proposed Republican budget numbers could be devastating for two treatment areas of behavioral health.

“The proposed cuts to mental health funding within House Bill 218 would jeopardize the way counties perform mental health services to some of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens. The last instance where funding was cut to mental health programs, the counties were unable to absorb the costs and critical programs ceased,” said Dr. Adair. “Additionally, cuts to crucial behavioral health and funding would eliminate $4 million included in the Governor’s budget for treatment through our Centers of Excellence to approximately 1,200 individuals who have fallen victim to the opioid epidemic.”