By Hayden Mitman | Watchdog.org
Gov. Tom Wolf this week sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting additional federal funds to combat the state’s ongoing opioid abuse emergency, noting that it has taken the lives of more than 4,600 Pennsylvanians in the past year.
According to a report released by the DEA last year, between 2015 and 2016, the number of overdose deaths in the state of Pennsylvania rose by of 37 percent.
The DEA said that equated roughly to 13 Pennsylvanians dying of a drug-related overdose each day of 2016.
Aside from requesting additional funds to tackle this issue, Wolf, on Jan. 10, went a step further by declaring heroin and opioid addiction a statewide disaster, which is intended to help streamline services and add several initiatives that could help service providers support the individuals in their communities who struggle with addiction.
This action comes at no new costs to taxpayers and adds no new funding to programs, but it is intended to streamline current services and it creates an Opioid Operational Command Center at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, among other initiatives.
Statewide, Pennsylvania houses 45 “Centers of Excellence”. These are treatment centers that serve about 11,000 people throughout the state. This week, Watchdog.org reached out to many of these centers to find out just what the changes, that have been implemented through the governor’s recent declaration could mean for the way they serve the members of their local communities.
“Well, it’s nice to have his support. This really is an excellent program,” said Dr. Neil Capretto, addiction psychologist and medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Allegheny County, one of the state’s Centers of Excellence.
Capretto has been working at Gateway for 29 years,. He said he’s seen the abuse of prescription painkillers skyrocket in his community. In fact, Capretto said that in 1985, Allegheny County saw 22 overdose deaths related to opioid abuse.
Last year, he said, the county saw 650 people die of opioid overdoses. Last year’s DEA report notes Allegheny County came in as the county with the sixth highest rate of overdose deaths between 2015 and 2016.
“I was talking about how big a problem this was way back then,” he said. “And, it’s just getting worse every year.”
According to Capretto, one of the best parts about Wolf’s decision to call opioid and heroin addiction a statewide emergency is that it brings more attention to an issue that, he believes, people don’t always realize the severity of.
“These aren’t happy people,” Capretto said. “I think, sometimes, that the public thinks that these are just people out partying. No. These people are miserable.”
In York County, according to the York Dispatch, overdose deaths in the county rose from 64 deaths in 2015, to 70 deaths last year.
At York County’s Family First Health Corporation, a Center of Excellence, Anika Jackson, director of Family First’s Center of Excellence, said that just how the governor’s statewide declaration impacts each Center of Excellence depends on just what type of service each one provides.
There essentially are two types of these Centers of Excellence, she said, physical health centers and behavioral health treatment centers.
For a physical treatment center, like Family First, Jackson said that the biggest improvement that she saw in the governor’s declaration was that it would help streamline ways for service providers to be able to give their patients treatment.
For example, she said, after an individual is revived from an overdose with Narcan – an anti-overdose drug – an emergency service provider can prescribe medicine assisted treatment immediately. Before, she said, that was a process that could take days.
“Now, this is really making it black and white,” she said.
In Bucks County, as pointed out last year by The Philadelphia Inquirer, overdose deaths rose a full 44-percent in 2016, with 168 overdose deaths throughout the county that year, compared to 2015’s total of 117 fatal overdoses.
At the Family Service Association of Bucks County, Center of Excellence program manager Shannon Hays said that their center’s model is “a lot of case management” that helps get people treatment they need to help combat addiction.
Wolf’s declaration, Hays said, will help streamline how quickly they can get people the treatment they need. She pointed out the fact that the declaration waives fees from birth certificate requirements for those who are seeking treatment.
“A lot of times, people are coming in off the street out of jail,” she said. “They don’t have identification and that fee can be a hurdle … The more they help remove hurdles, the more we can remove hurdles for them [patients].”