Governor: Opioid crisis a statewide disaster emergency

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State Emergency declarations are usually centered around serious weather events- but Governor Wolf says the opioid epidemic qualifies as a disaster.

In Lancaster County, 165 people died from drug overdoses past year - a lot of them using prescription painkillers, heroin or fentanyl, according to county coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni. His office says seven other states have taken similar actions to address the problem.

"I am taking this step to protect Pennsylvanians from this looming public health crisis, and I am using every tool at my disposal to get those suffering from substance use disorders into treatment, save more lives, and improve response coordination", Wolf said.

- Expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) by waiving the regulatory provision to permit dosing at satellite facilities.

An Opioid Operation Command Center will launch within the state's emergency management agency and be staffed by employees of nine state departments including health, state police, and others.

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Medics responding to overdose calls will be able to leave behind additional doses of naloxone, so drug users can prevent death if another overdose happens in the future. "It will waive annual licensing requirements for high performing drug and alcohol treatment facilities", Wolf said.

That's up from 117 people who died from overdoses in 2016 and 84 overdose deaths in 2015.

"These stories are horrific", Wolf said.

The state's delay in rolling out a drug monitoring program may be part of the reason why Pennsylvania is still seeing deaths increase, he said.

The declaration will mark the first time in state history such a declaration is made for a public health crisis.

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Measures to cut through red tape and connect addicts to services more quickly "is very exciting", she added. "As providers of drug and alcohol prevention and treatment programs, counties are seeing firsthand the impact of the ever-increasing opioid epidemic, which touches lives from all backgrounds in our communities". "Our national investigation with 41 Attorneys General of the pharmaceutical industry and the opioid painkillers fueling this epidemic is ongoing and active".

"But as we continue losing more Pennsylvanians to overdoses, it's clear we must do more", Shapiro said.

The House Republican chairs of the human services and health committee said Wolf's announcement spelled out "positive steps".

The crisis hit Butler County particularly hard in 2017.

"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 they have, the ability to provide the resources to solve those problems", said Rick Flinn, director of PEMA.

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