Articles, Blog

Governor Wolf Declares Heroin and Opioid Epidemic a Statewide Disaster Emergency

December 17, 2019

Good afternoon everybody
thank you for being here today I just want to announce that I’m taking the
additional step in our Commonwealth-wide fight against heroin and opioid
abuse, against the epidemic, to further combat this crisis. Today I’m issuing a
statewide disaster declaration for the heroin and opioid epidemic and
officially I am declaring this public health crisis a statewide disaster
emergency. I don’t take this action lightly. We know that this crisis has
taken far too many lives it has broken far too many families it has decimated
far too many communities and it has gone on far too long. According to the Center
for Disease Control Pennsylvania now has the fourth highest overdose rate in the
country in 2016 we lost over 4,600 Pennsylvanians to
this disease and according to provisional data we lost an additional
5,000 260 Pennsylvanians. In 2017 those that we have lost are not just
numbers – they’re mothers, they’re fathers, sons, daughters, family members, neighbors – all
of them contributing members of our society. They’re people whose parents and
grandparents I have sat with and heard how devastating this disease is for all
of them. We mourn their losses and we try to
empathize with the pain most of us cannot even begin to imagine. But as we
do, we understand we also have to act quickly and decisively to make sure that
those numbers don’t continue to grow. So this disaster declaration while it’s not
a silver bullet will open additional avenues for the state to fight back
against this public health crisis so that no longer will families have to
suffer these kinds of unimaginable losses. The opening of the opioid
operational command center the command center housed with PEMA, you’ll be
hearing from Director Rick Flinn in a minute, within PEMA that will track and monitor our progress. This center is part of this declaration. The center will include staff from the departments of Health, Human Services,
Drug and Alcohol Programs, Aging, State, Corrections, the State Police,
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, PEMA, and the Pennsylvania Commission on
Crime and Delinquency, PCCD. That’s nine agencies that will be working together
through this Center, and that Center will be tasked with providing updates on our
progress throughout the declaration’s duration which is 90 days, by the
Constitution. Additional projects to be undertaken under this declaration
include allowing EMS providers to leave behind naloxone with users of opioids
who lawfully possess the drugs for their own use or someone else’s use who lives
in their home. It will allow for pharmacists to partner with other
organizations to increase access to naloxone. This declaration will expand
access to the prescription drug monitoring program to other Commonwealth
departments for clinical decision making purpose. It will include the rescheduling
of fentanyl derivatives to align with DEA schedules, will add overdoses and
neonatal abstinence syndrome as reportable conditions, will waive the
face-to-face requirement for physicians to intake patients into the narcotic
treatment programs that are all over the state. It will authorize the emergency
procurement of a long term contract for DDAP’s that’s the department of drug and alcohol programs, Get Help Now hotline
which helps connect individuals in need and their families with the resources
they need for help. It will expand access to medication assisted treatment for
satellite narcotic treatment programs, it will waive annual licensing requirements
for high performing drug and alcohol treatment facilities will move from
annual relicensing to biannual every two years. It’ll streamline the purchasing of a body scanner to be used on re-entrance
at Wernersville where we have seen a very high incidence of abuse and
overdose. It will waive fees for birth certificates for individuals with opioid
use disorders allowing them quicker access to treatment and benefits
and it will wave separate licensing requirements for hospitals to expand
access to drug and alcohol treatment programs. While the scope of this
declaration is broad and while it affects programs and entities across the
Commonwealth it is imperative that we use every tool to try to contain and
eradicate this public health crisis. I have pledged to do everything in my
power to stop this scourge and to protect the families and communities of
Pennsylvania that are suffering because we know that this crisis does not
discriminate it hits every age level every creed color and income level. It
hits rural and urban areas. It hits all regions of the state – north, west, east and
south. This declaration follows through on the promise that I’ve made and
recognizes the seriousness of the issue that we’re all facing and this
declaration is the latest it’s the latest in a series of steps that my
administration in partnership with the legislature this is a bipartisan issue
has already taken. In the last two and a half years just to review we have taken
aggressive steps right here in Harrisburg, Republicans and Democrats in
the Senate and the House, to tackle the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic. We’ve
done a number of things. First we’ve redesigned the prescription drug
monitoring program, second we’ve expanded and worked to protect Medicaid we now
have 125,000 people whose providers get reimbursement for treatment for
substance use disorder. We’ve provided funding all of us here in this building
for forty five Centers of Excellence for treatment centers. We’ve created the drug
take-back program that allows people to get rid of unwanted prescription drugs,
we have one of those, at least one in every county in Pennsylvania. We’ve made
the opioid reversal antidote naloxone available to all Pennsylvania’s through
a standing order signed by physician general, now acting secretary of health
Rachel Levine. We’ve created ten sets of prescribing guidelines to assist health
care professionals to deliver the best most appropriate care to individuals
with substance use disorder. We’ve worked with Pennsylvania’s medical
schools to create new curricula. We’ve created a toll-free helpline to connect
individuals seeking treatment for themselves or a loved one. We’ve limited the number of opioids that can be prescribed to a minor or to
anybody in an emergency room. We’ve expanded access to naloxone by providing
funds to first responders and law enforcement officials that will help
them keep their supplies up, and we’ve provided two million dollars to expand
specialty drug courts throughout Pennsylvania. So while these steps have
been significant, we’ve been working on this for some time. We’ve made
significant progress, we all know that we have more to do the sheer number of
overdoses and deaths show that we need to do a lot more and the stories that
pour in all too frequently and all too tragically from every corner of the
Commonwealth show that we need to do more. This need is what this
disaster declaration is about. we cannot stand by, we cannot stand on what we’ve
done, as long as this disaster, this disease, continues to ravage our lives,
our communities, our families. we cannot stand by ,we cannot fail to act in the face
of this crisis and we cannot allow more families to suffer the tragedies that
they’ve suffered already. The numbers again are staggering, the impact is
devastating. We cannot allow it to continue. Throughout the duration of this declaration we will continue to analyze
review and change our response based on what we find, what comes out of this this
declaration because we need to find solutions that work. We’ve all heard the
horror stories – the woman who’s been through eight treatment facilities by
the time she’s 20, she continues to struggle, the dad who broke down in tears
begging me for help for his daughter, the police officer who arrived on a scene to
find he is only minutes late to save somebody’s life, or the grandmother who’s
raising her grandchildren because they’ve lost both parents to the disease.
these stories are horrific, they’re far far too common so we’re here today to
put a stop to them and deliver help to those who need it so that we can stop
this loss and rebuild our communities. I want to thank all the agencies for their
work as well as the partners in the General Assembly for their dedication to
finding real solutions to beat this epidemic. Today is about pushing forward, about using all the possible tools we have
today, it is about the families of Pennsylvania who are suffering, today is about getting them the help they need. Now I want to turn
this over to the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Rick Flinn. Thank you, governor. I will tell you on behalf of PEMA, we’re honored to be part of this very critical and important issue. It is a disaster and
every single day you know PEMA is organized and trained to be able to
coordinate and collaborate among the state agencies to
provide assistance to disaster survivors. We’ve been asked and tasked to
help do that where the Health Department is primarily the lead agency. Our
role is really focused in on doing the things we normally do in any disaster.
Whether it’s gathering information from a situation awareness perspective,
working with state agencies, identifying problems and working with them on what
resources they have the ability to provide to solve those problems from
the Commonwealth Response Coordination Center. That’s what we call it
because it’s not a State Emergency Operations Center because we don’t command, we coordinate. We’re actually is going to as the governor mentioned bring
in not only the state agencies he mentioned but it’s a whole government
and whole community approach to disaster response. So with the state agencies
in the department and the DDAP folks have been engaged with we’re
gonna be coordinating those efforts. We operate under the
National Incident Management System and the National Incident Management System
is a fundamentally a structure that helps coordinate, has language that that
everyone understands, and sets in a system up, Incident Command, where there’s a function of leadership and breaking out of branches and divisions to be able
to identify and how to solve problems. We’re going to be implementing that
that’s what we do and I’m proud to be part of this effort. Again, under the
direction of Governor Wolf we are very proud to be part of this process and
we’ll work very closely with the state agencies involved to be able to not only
do what we need to do in the 90 day period, but help set the framework for a
future of dealing with this serious crisis. Thank you. I’d like to introduce the Secretary of the
Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Jennifer Smith. Thank you, Director Flynn and thank you, governor. I have not met a person in state government who takes this epidemic more seriously than our governor. Every meeting, every staff
meeting, and every press event he takes the opportunity to talk about this epidemic. So I give a great amount of thanks to him for the tremendous effort that he
takes in leading all of us as cabinet members in addressing this epidemic. It’s
not just about my agency, as the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs,
it’s about every agency in the commonwealth. Truly, an all-hands-on-deck
approach. I think what this declaration does is allows us to bring
even more energy and more drive behind all of those initiatives. The governor
mentioned some of the things that we’re going to be doing as part of this declaration. One of the things is extending the hotline that he mentioned.
Back in November of 2016, our department worked to stand up a hotline:
1 (800) 662-HELP. It’s a hotline geared at connecting
individuals with resources and providing direct referrals into treatment. Since
the go-live of that hotline, they have taken over 20,000 phone calls 20,000
phone calls. This declaration will enable us to ensure that there’s no disruption
to that service. Another thing that this declaration will enable us to do is look
at our regulations and look at ways we can reduce burdens on our treatment
providers, allowing them to cut back on the paperwork required and instead
devote those hours to the patients who so desperately need
treatment. Some other regulations will be looking at our ways in which we can
ensure patients are brought in to treatment facilities more quickly so
we’re taking a look at the intake process there are some regulations that
require a face-to-face physician examination as part of the intake
process. Physicians aren’t always accessible they’re a hot commodity in
the drug-and-alcohol world. So sometimes that could delay intake to a facility by
hours or even days. That’s not acceptable. This declaration will enable us to allow
other individuals in the treatment facility, such as certified registered
nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to perform that face-to-face
evaluation rather than waiting for a physician. Those are just some
examples of ways we’re looking at our regulations and ways to better treat
individuals and get them access to that treatment much more quickly. Again, I
thank the governor and I thank all of my cabinet members and I really look
forward to the collaboration and the energy that this declaration can bring
to the epidemic. Now, I’d like to call to the podium my friend and colleague
Dr. Rachel Levine, Acting Secretary for the Department of Health and
Physician General. Thank you, Secretary Smith. Good afternoon. I also would like
to thank Governor Wolf for this really unprecedented action. To the best of our
knowledge at the Department of Health, a Pennsylvania governor has never used a
disaster proclamation such as this for a public health emergency. It’s very
significant because all working together we can allow more resources to be able
to help Pennsylvania and suffering from opioid use disorder. I think it’s
critical to emphasize that addiction and opioid use disorder are medical
conditions they are diseases they are not a moral failing. In this disease in
Pennsylvania has reached this epidemic proportion. It is a public health emergency. It is the worst public health crisis that we
have faced in Pennsylvania and, you could argue, in the nation in more than a
generation. The Department of Health is really honored to be fully participating
in this effort and in the Opioid Operations Command Center. We’ll be providing staff, will be providing resources, and are very pleased to be
participating in collaborating with all of our sister agencies in public health, law enforcement and public safety on this effort. You had
mentioned the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. The Prescription Drug
Monitoring Program, which is approximately a year and a half old,
started in August of 2016, is a critical tool in our effort. It is part of the
opioid stewardship effort that we have in terms of preventing people from
becoming addicted to these medicines and monitoring them. We will utilize that
in the command center. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program has decreased
opioid prescriptions by almost 12% from September 2016 to September 2017. Through this effort, we will be increasing our data sharing with all of
our sister agencies so they can use that that data to help them in their efforts
to combat this crisis. This declaration also gives first responders and EMS agencies another tool in terms of saving lives. Using the standing order that I signed
in 2015 first responders such as EMS have been able to use naloxone
to save someone suffering in overdose. Using this life-saving medicine, police
departments have saved over 5700 lives in approximately the last three years
using naloxone. But sometimes those lives are still at risk. We want patients
who are resuscitated and revived with naloxone to go to the emergency
department because we want to link them with treatment. But at times, they
don’t and first responders have been asking us
EMS has been asking the Department of Health for the ability to then leave
behind a kit of naloxone, to have their friends and family save their
lives, if they might overdose again. This time, if a patient does refuse to go
to the emergency department the responders will hey be able to leave
behind a kit of naloxone, in case they might suffer another overdose. We
know that naloxone is absolutely essential, it’s absolutely essential. You
cannot access treatment and get into recovery if you’re dead. However, it is
not sufficient. So through this effort of the command center, we’ll be
continuing our warm handoff efforts. We’re going to be having a series of
warm handoff regional convenings to work with the the single county authorities
regulated by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs as well as emergency
departments, health and hospital systems, treatment providers, EMS, and
coroners to try to get people into treatment. But they have to be
alive to get into treatment. To all the families that are suffering
from this disease during this epidemic. During this crisis, it’s important
to remember and for us always to emphasize that treatment works, recovery
is possible. Under the governor’s leadership, who is committed to
addressing this crisis, we all in the administration have to give hope. Hope to
the patient’s suffering from the disease of addiction, hope to their families that
are suffering right along with them, hope to our communities, and hope to our
commonwealth. Thank you. I’m going to sign the declaration, then I’ll come back here and any of us will take questions.


  • Reply Stop it now January 11, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    How and why is it an epidemic? Why can't you save money and deal with the issues like you all did with the crack epidemic? Declare a war on drugs and lock em all up. Remove the innocent children from these harmful environments.

  • Reply Renee H March 29, 2018 at 2:23 am

    Is this some kind of joke? Mr. Rachel? Really? And the prescription drug monitoring program may look good on paper as far as reducing the number of opiate prescriptions 12%, but I'm sure that heroin usage and overdoses have increased!

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