HARRISBURG – In a bipartisan effort to proactively and effectively continue combatting the opioid crisis gripping Pennsylvania, Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana), Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) and the 199 other members of the House of Representatives on Thursday called on Gov. Tom Wolf to call a special session of the General Assembly.
“Opioid overdoses and deaths cut across all age groups, economic sectors and racial demographics,” said Turzai. “This isn’t a partisan issue. We have been fighting it for years in the House and we are respectfully requesting the governor call a special session so we can best protect our children, families and communities.”
Under Article IV, Section 12, of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the governor can convene the General Assembly “on extraordinary occasions” by proclamation. When the General Assembly is convened in a special session, its members can only consider legislation on those subjects designated in the governor’s proclamation.
Just 34 such sessions have been called in Pennsylvania history.
“It is going to take a community effort that involves family members to beat this opioid problem, and government can play an important role in helping to find a solution,” Reed said. “Extraordinary circumstances require an extraordinary response and the opioid crisis in the Commonwealth is such an occasion. A special session will allow us to work with laser focus on putting measures in place to defeat the problem.”
Dermody agreed. “The governor held more than two dozen roundtable discussions across Pennsylvania with legislators, local officials and survivors of addiction. The state has taken some important steps but we must not stop now. People are dying every day in this public health crisis and it requires our attention and resources.”
While opioids have provided relief to those who previously suffered intolerable pain, the use, overuse and abuse of this class of drugs cost thousands of lives and the Commonwealth more than $12.2 million in hospitalization costs annually as of 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4).
“I have a deep desire to participate in and create enthusiasm for a distinct effort to address the tragic opioid problem,” said Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny). “We must, in a bipartisan manner, have the opportunity to dedicate time and effort to find the solution.”
Opioids are a class of drugs derived from or pharmacologically similar to opiates. While these analgesics are the most effective pharmaceuticals for killing pain, they carry with them a significant risk of addiction.
Some data suggest that 60 percent of prescription opioid deaths occur in patients with no history of substance abuse and who are only prescribed an opioid by one health care practitioner. Unfortunately, this is not a problem which only hits those who are drug seeking or doctor shopping, said Reed.
“House leaders from both sides of the aisle have led from the front in combating the opioid epidemic, and we need to get many bills to the governor’s desk,” said Turzai. “We know this issue transcends party lines, and we will have overwhelming bipartisan and bicameral support for this effort.”
The House has several pieces of legislation queued up to send to address this issue:
- HR 590 (Kinsey, D-Philadelphia) – Directs the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to establish and administer a task force on access to addiction treatment through health plans. The measure passed the House unanimously May 16 and is awaiting Senate approval.
- HB 1737 (Maher, R-Allegheny) – Provides for the proper disposal of unused prescriptions. The measure passed the House unanimously May 16 and is awaiting Senate approval.
- HB 1692 (Readshaw, D-Allegheny) – Allows for involuntary commitment for drug and alcohol abuse. It is currently in the House Human Services Committee.
- HB 1698 (Heffley, R-Carbon) – Provides coverage of abuse-deterrent opioids. Passed the House June 23 and is awaiting Senate approval.
- HB 1699 (R. Brown, R-Monroe/Pike) – Sets a seven-day limit on the prescription of opioids in emergency departments. Passed the House June 23 and is awaiting Senate approval.
- HB 1805 (Masser, R-Northumberland/Columbia/Montour) – Requires prescribers and dispensers to undergo continuing education in pain management, addiction and prescribing practices. Passed the House June 23 and is awaiting Senate approval.
- HB 2128 (Heffley, R-Carbon) – Requires publicly-funded recovery houses to have Naloxone on hand. The bill had first consideration in House June 15.
- HR 893 (Readshaw, D-Allegheny) – Calls for a Joint State Government Commission study on addiction treatment. Passed the House June 21.
- HB 1295 (DiGirolamo, R-Bucks) – Adds buprenorphine to the Methadone Death and Incident Review Act. The measure passed the House unanimously May 18 and is awaiting Senate approval.
- HB 1511 (DiGirolamo, R-Bucks) – Creates an emergency addiction treatment fund by taxing the sales of opioids in Pennsylvania.The bill is currently in the Human Services Committee
The House has also established the PA Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education (PA-HOPE) Caucus. This bipartisan group of legislators, chaired by Reps. Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne) and Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny), aimed at addressing the growing opioid epidemic will issue its findings and recommendations in the next few days.
“The strategy, effort and action are all in motion, so dedicated time to complete the mission during a special session is exactly what we need,” said Turzai.