Wolf Administration response to declaration of public health emergency

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Wolf Administration Health Officials Call for Immediate Action to Fight Growing Opioid Crisis
Response to Declaration of Public Health Emergency

Harrisburg, PA – Wolf Administration health officials responded to President Trump’s decision to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency by urging the President’s administration to provide additional resources to combat the disease.

In August and again yesterday, Governor Tom Wolf called on President Trump to act on recommendations from the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which included naming the epidemic a national emergency.

“President Trump’s decision to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency is an important step, but this is only the beginning,” Governor Wolf said in a statement. “The president’s repeated calls to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) puts the very Americans he aims to help through this declaration in jeopardy. My administration will continue to put our full effort into fighting this crisis, and I hope the Trump Administration will do the same.

A public health emergency declaration still creates opportunities for increased coordination at all levels of government, additional support for states battling the opioid epidemic, and expanded and enhanced treatment and prevention efforts occurring around the country.

“The Wolf Administration is taking key steps to expand coverage for substance use disorder treatment,” Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Teresa Miller said. “Thanks to the ACA and Governor Wolf’s expansion of Medicaid, 175,000 Pennsylvanians have been able to access treatment. Medicaid covers the full spectrum of treatment for substance use disorders, and we are working with the entities we oversee to ensure that enrollees receive the benefits required by the mental health parity law, which requires that services for mental health and substance use disorder be covered at parity with services for physical health.”

“Opioid addiction is a disease, not a moral failing,” Acting Health Secretary and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Chemical changes happen in the brain when a patient is suffering from an opioid-use disorder. The Wolf Administration remains committed to treating residents who are suffering from this disease, and prevent it from spreading.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 65,000 people died from a drug overdose between March 2016 and March 2017, up more than 10,000 from the previous year. In Pennsylvania, nearly 5,000 people died of overdoses during this period.

“Pennsylvania is working tirelessly at the state and local level to address this epidemic through evidence-based treatment, prevention, and awareness efforts,” said Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Acting Secretary Jennifer Smith. “We look forward to working with the federal government to build on these efforts to help Pennsylvanians impacted by the heroin and opioid epidemic.”

The Wolf Administration is working to combat the opioid epidemic across Pennsylvania through various channels, many of which were included in recommendations made by the President’s opioid commission. These efforts include:
• Expanding access to life-saving naloxone for first responders, law enforcement, school staff, and all Pennsylvanians through a standing order signed by Dr. Levine in 2015;
• Providing $20.4 million in the 2016-17 budget to expand treatment options offered at Centers of Excellence, which coordinate behavioral health and primary care for Medicaid patients with substance use disorder;
• Establishing warm handoff guidelines for emergency room doctors to help individuals with substance use disorder and patients who receive naloxone to enter treatment;
• Expanding access to evidence-based medication-assisted treatment at health care facilities around Pennsylvania using 21st Century Cures Act grant funding;
• Educating physicians on safe and effective opioid use and establishing prescribing recommendations and guidelines;
• Utilizing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to help health care professionals identify potential cases of prescription opioid abuse;
• Establishing a 24/7, toll-free helpline (1-800-662-HELP) to connect individuals seeking treatment or their families and friends identify immediate help to fight a drug or alcohol problem.

For more information on treatment options in Pennsylvania, county-based resources, and the Wolf Administration’s efforts to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic, visit http://www.pa.gov/opioid.

SOURCE: PA Dept of Health