By: Nathan Willison
In January, 2018, Governor Tom Wolf declared a 90 day state of emergency to combat heroin and opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania. This declaration established 13 initiatives to prevent addiction and increase access to lifesaving treatment. On April 4th, Wolf announced the renewal of the Opioid Disaster Declaration and a continuation of all of the initiatives.
The opioid epidemic has become a nation-wide crisis. Opioids are a class of drug that includes illegal substances such as heroin and fentanyl along with legal pain relievers such as hydrocodone. Both legal and illegal substances produce similar effects and can lead to overdoses.
“Extending this declaration will allow us to continue our efforts to break down silos and enhance collaboration across state government. Throughout the next 90 days, we will work to expand our efforts to include additional state agencies and commissions as necessary, so that we can direct our help to more communications across the commonwealth,” Wolf stated at a press conference announcing the continuation declaration.
The Opioid Disaster Declaration was announced after several years of rising fentanyl and heroin deaths. The Center for Disease Control estimates that drug overdoses increased by 44% from 2015 to 2016 in Pennsylvania.
The effect of these initiatives is unclear. Overdose deaths for the first three months of 2018 were decreased compared to the same period of time in 2017. However, an increased number of overdose-related emergency room visits occurred compared to the previous year.
According to a map created by Lancaster County’s District Attorney’s office, 15 overdose incidents have occurred in Elizabethtown between November 2017 and March 2018. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, more Pennsylvanians die of opioid overdoses than fatal vehicle accidents.
Solutions to the crisis have been heavily debated. In Philadelphia, city officials have debated opening a safe injection site where addicts are given sterile equipment to inject with and medical professionals are present in case of overdoses.
In April 2018, the Surgeon General released a statement advising individuals in opioid-ridden communities to carry the anti-overdose drug Naloxone with them. Naloxone can be purchased over the counter in Pennsylvania.
Officials hope that these programs and others like them will work in tandem with Governor Wolf's initiatives to curb both the death toll and the number of users in the ongoing epidemic which continues to effect central PA communities.