HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday signed the third renewal of his 90-day opioid disaster declaration amid a call to the General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 1001, which would establish a mechanism for a public health emergency.
“I am pleased to be able to renew the opioid disaster declaration and proud of the work so many have done to date, but I want to stress the need to establish a mechanism for a public health emergency as outlined in Senate Bill 1001,” Wolf said.
Senate Bill 1001 was introduced by Senator Jay Costa and announced in April when the disaster declaration was renewed for the first time.
The legislation empowers the secretary of the Department of Health to declare a public health emergency, creating a more streamlined vehicle for deploying resources specific to that emergency – opioids or another health crisis.
It also allows the Health secretary to waive regulations, create new temporary regulations and publish notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin for tracking and treating a disease, illness or event. It allows public workers to provide treatment to control the emergency.
The legislation passed the Senate unanimously and is with the House Health Committee, which met Monday.
The disaster declaration, which was introduced in January, and renewed in April and June, was set to expire Sept. 26. The renewal allows for the initiatives introduced in the past 270 days to continue without interruption.
The governor detailed progress with the initiatives introduced since the last opioid disaster declaration renewal and those in place since January.
Since the first series of initiatives was introduced in January, the Opioid Command Center, headquartered at PEMA and involving staff from 14 state agencies, has made significant progress in a battle that continues:
- 300 high-performing drug and alcohol treatment providers have been granted annual licensing requirement exemptions. These facilities have applied for and received two-year licenses, ensuring continued, high-quality treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) sufferers.
- Nearly 15,000 patients have interacted with the commonwealth’s 45 Centers of Excellence (COEs), and 71 percent of these patients engaged in some level of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. The COEs coordinate primary care and behavioral health for Pennsylvanians with SUD and prior to the initiative as few as 48 percent of Medicaid patients with a SUD.
- A second $26.5 million grant through the federal 21st Century Cures Act to address the epidemic will help to continue efforts to increase access to treatment, reduce unmet treatment needs for special populations, strengthen prevention activities around the commonwealth, and address the issue of stigma towards addiction that creates barriers to treatment and living in recovery.
- 761 people suffering from opioid use disorder and without the means to purchase a copy of their birth certificate have received them without a charge, helping them get into treatment faster.
- Funded by Wolf’s initiative, 29,208 doses of naloxone were supplied to Centralized Coordinating Entities (CCEs) through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
- The Opioid Operational Command Center began regional meetings to connect with local communities to listen to the needs and efforts unique to each area and share the progress the state has been making throughout the disaster declaration.
- Calls to the toll-free helpline, 1-800-662-4357, have increased by 56 percent since Jan. 1, 2018. Over 12,000 total calls have been placed to the helpline; 5,485 of those callers have been connected to services such as emergency treatment programs to include medication-assisted treatment, detox/crisis stabilization, inpatient and intensive outpatient services.
- Approximately 97,000 prescribers and delegates have registered with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), which averages over 1.1 million searches monthly and which has helped to decrease the number of opioid prescriptions, making Pennsylvania second in the nation for reduction of opioid prescriptions.
Since the second disaster declaration renewal in late June, the Opioid Command Center and its partners have developed new initiatives to attack the epidemic:
- Secured approval to continue to receive federal Medicaid funding to be used in SUD treatment facilities, providing more than 12,000 individuals with access to high-quality, medically necessary treatment through more than 150 service providers.
- Unveiled opioid prescribing guidelines for worker’s compensation to help health care providers determine when opioids are appropriate for treatment of someone injured on the job.
- Provided funding for three organizations to build medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs for Pennsylvanians suffering from the disease of addiction as part of the Pennsylvania Coordinated Medication Assisted Treatment program, or PacMAT.
- Secured a $5 million federal grant to provide career services to people who have been impacted by the opioid epidemic and a plan to return to work and create a mobile app for individuals impacted by the opioid epidemic.
- Started using EpiCenter alerts to communicate real-time overdose outbreaks to state and county officials.
- Developed web-based training to the EMS community through PA Train on the naloxone leave behind program. Training includes discussion of the standing order and the proper process and instances to implement naloxone leave behind. A reminder of the required report to the survey monkey tool documenting the leave behind is also included.
- Secured a $5.1 million federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for data collection and analyzation and to continue to work on crisis response to the opioid epidemic.
- Obtained a Drexel University “embedded researcher” who will serve as an internal resource for the Opioid Command Center (OCC). The embedded researcher will analyze all data reported to the OCC to evaluate current and recommend new policies.
- Secured a $55.9 million federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to be used for practices and services related to the state’s opioid response. In total, Pennsylvania has received more than $108 million in federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grants to help in its fight against the opioid epidemic.
“It is critical that we keep building on our efforts at prevention, rescue, and treatment by extending the disaster declaration for another 90 days and moving forward with Senate Bill 1001 to create a mechanism for a public health emergency,” Wolf said.
“We must work to ensure that my administration and local partners can continue to use every tool available to them to help people and communities in need.”
More information on the Wolf Administration’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and how people suffering from this disease can get help is here.