Pa. governor signs disaster emergency in opioid crisis

Gov. Wolf to make announcement of new executive action in fight against heroin and opioid epidemic

As in a more typical type of public health emergency, a command center will be established at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to track progress, and to provide better coordination among health and public safety agencies.

Pennsylvania reported 4,642 deaths from drug overdoses in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The vast majority of them were from fentanyl", said Cook.

"We know that this crisis does not discriminate", Wolf said.

Such declarations, normally used in response to natural disasters, are limited by law to 90 days. "It is the worst public health crisis that we have faced in Pennsylvania".

It will allow some agencies to waive existing regulations.

"What this declaration does is allows us to bring even more energy and more drive behind all of those initiatives", said Jennifer Smith, the state's acting director of drug and alcohol programs.

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An existing regulation, Levine said, prevents crews from leaving naloxone behind.

Ramping up the state's toll-free addiction hotline, 1-800-622-HELP, is a big one, she said.

Stanley J. Papademetriou, excutive director of the Council on Chemical Abuse, which distributes public money for fighting drug abuse in Berks County, called the declaration a bold move overall and described the change regarding naloxone. So, while he applauds any steps taken to deal with the epidemic, "we do not see a shift in our approach from that perspective". But at least one aspect of the declaration is expected to affect Berks County. These steps are in addition to earlier actions by the governor in launching the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, providing funding to implement Centers of Excellence for treatment, and providing law enforcement and first responders with naloxone.

"I pledge to do everything in my power to stop this scourge", Wolf said on Wednesday. Pennsylvania's opioid addiction rate is about twice the national average.

The declaration includes 13 key initiatives involving the Departments of Health, Drug and Alcohol Programs, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the State Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the PA State Police.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, said the opioid problem was "particularly acute" in his city, and praised Wolf's declaration.

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"It is thinking outside the box", she said Wednesday.

"I don't take this action lightly", Wolf said.

Stedman says the problem must be tackled from many angles.

Florida's emergency order last May 3 allowed that state to start spending $27 million in federal grant money that otherwise would have taken months to tap, Gov. Rick Scott's office said at the time of his announcement. After that, if needed he could seek to extend it with another proclamation, Wolf said. "It is an expression of the severity of the challenge".

"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.

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