Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement Wednesday of a “statewide disaster declaration” will appropriately bring additional resources to bear immediately on the heroin and opioid epidemic, which took 4,600 Pennsylvania lives by fatal overdose in 2016.
Of utmost importance is the focus on treatment. The declaration, among other steps:
• Makes it easier for medical professionals to get people into drug treatment more quickly.
• Allows emergency responders to leave behind the overdose antidote naloxone when responding to a call for help and the patient declines transportation to a hospital.
• Waives the face-to-face physician requirement for narcotic treatment program admissions to allow initial intake review by a certified registered nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
• Waives a separate licensing requirement for hospitals to expand access to drug and alcohol treatment.
• Expands access to medication-assisted treatment at satellite narcotic treatment program facilities, allowing more people to receive treatment at the same location.
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After Wolf’s declaration, PA Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Gene Barr made a call for passage of S.B. 936, legislation that would help fight this epidemic as it relates to the overuse and abuse of prescription drugs among injured workers. Other states have implemented similar legislation to help injured workers avoid the pitfalls of the overprescribing of opioids, another reminder that this is a problem for those of any social standing.
Also, Thursday at the federal level, U.S. Reps. Tom Marino (PA-10) and Karen Bass (CA-37) introduced H.R.4769, the Helping Americans Seek Treatment Act. It requires the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) to increase awareness of the National Helpline by conducting a national campaign to inform the public on how to get in contact with the helpline and the information it provides.
H.R. 4769 also requires SAMHSA to inform individuals calling into the Helpline about available pre-arrest referral programs. A pre-arrest referral program is a tool that can be used to steer low-risk drug offenders toward treatment rather than prison.
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We’ve seen how this epidemic has touched every part of our lives locally, from police to the courts, from the medical field to social workers. As the state and federal governments continue to target the disease that is heroin and opioid epidemic with more public resources, we cannot lose sight of the fact that this is necessary and appropriate spending that, in the end, will save money — and lives.