June 12, 2018

PA Governor Wolf Declares Heroin and Opioid Epidemic a Statewide Disaster Emergency

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf recently took another step forward in bolstering the fight against heroin and opioid addiction by signing a statewide disaster declaration to enhance state response, increase access to treatment, and save lives. The declaration is the first-of-its-kind for a public health emergency in Pennsylvania and will utilize a command center at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to track progress and enhance coordination of health and public safety agencies.

“While we have made progress in combatting the heroin and opioid abuse crisis and drastically expanded Pennsylvania’s response, we are still losing far too many Pennsylvanians,” Governor Wolf said. “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.”

Among the declaration’s specifics are 13 key initiatives that are the culmination of a collaboration between all state agencies, with focus on the departments of Health, Drug and Alcohol Programs, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the Pennsylvania State Police.

“I routinely challenge all commonwealth agencies to think innovatively about how they continue to address the opioid epidemic and seek solutions that last long beyond our tenure in this building,” Governor Wolf said. “One such solution is to use the executive authority granted to me as the governor of this commonwealth to waive statutory regulations that create barriers to treatment and prevention, prevent first responders and others from saving lives, and reduce efficiency of our response.”

The 13 initial initiatives are organized by three areas of focus and include:

Enhancing Coordination and Data Collection to Bolster State and Local Response

  • Establishes an Opioid Command Center located at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), which will house the Unified Opioid Coordination Group that will meet weekly during the disaster declaration to monitor implementation and progress of the initiatives in the declaration.
  • Expands Access to Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to Other Commonwealth Entities for Clinical Decision-Making Purposes to improve treatment outcomes and better monitor compliance among prescribers. Since 2016, 90,000 physicians have conducted more than 1 million searches on the PDMP.
  • Adds Overdoses and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) as Reportable Conditions in Title 28, Chapter 27 to the DOH in order to increase data collection and improve outcomes in both areas.
  • Authorizes Emergency Purchase Under Procurement Code for Hotline Contract with Current Vendor, giving DDAP further emergency purchase authorization to allow the department to enter into a contract with the current drug and alcohol hotline vendor to ensure uninterrupted services.
    To date, the 24/7 helpline, 1-800-662-HELP, has received more than 18,000 calls to connect those suffering from substance use disorder with treatment.

Improving Tools for Families, First Responders, and Others to Save Lives

  • Enables Emergency Medical Services providers to leave behind naloxone by amending the current Standing Order to include dispensing by first responders, including Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)The existing naloxone standing order and funding for naloxone to first responders has allowed for more than 5,000 lives to be saved so sufferers can be linked to treatment for substance use disorder.
  • Allows Pharmacists to Partner with Other Organizations to Increase Access to Naloxone by waiving regulations to allow pharmacists to partner with other organizations, including prisons and treatment programs to make naloxone available to at-risk individuals upon discharge from these facilities.
  • Allows for the immediate temporary rescheduling of all fentanyl derivatives to align with the federal DEA schedule while working toward permanent rescheduling.
  • Authorizes emergency purchasing under Section 516 of the Procurement Code to allow for an emergency contract to expand the advanced body scanner pilot program currently in place at Wernersville that is used on re-entrants returning to the facility. This would prevent the program from lapsing.

Speeding Up and Expanding Access to Treatment

  • Waive the face-to-face physician requirement for Narcotic Treatment Program (NTP) admissions to allow initial intake review by a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP) or Physician Assistant (PA) to expedite initial intakes and streamline coordination of care when an individual is most in need of immediate attention.
  • Expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) by waiving the regulatory provision to permit dosing at satellite facilities even though counseling remains at the base NTP.This allows more people to receive necessary treatments at the same location, increasing their access to all the care and chances for recovery.
  • Waive annual licensing requirements for high-performing drug and alcohol treatment facilities to allow for bi-annual licensure process which streamlines licensing functions and better allocates staff time. DDAP will request that facilities seek a waiver by filing exception requests to the annual licensing requirement.
  • Waive the fee provided for in statute for birth certificates for individuals who request a good-cause waiver by attesting that they are affected by OUD. This is of particular importance to individuals experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations who often cannot obtain copies of their birth certificates in order to access treatment and other benefits due to the financial requirements.
  • Waive separate licensing requirements for hospitals and emergency departments to expand access to drug and alcohol treatment to allow physicians to administer short-term MAT consistent with DEA regulations without requiring separate notice to DDAP.

Governor Wolf was joined at the declaration signing by PEMA Director Rick Flinn, Acting Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Jennifer Smith, and the Acting Secretary of Health and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine, who signed the revised first responders “leave behind” standing order for naloxone.

For a one-page summary of the declaration, visit governor.pa.gov (PDF).

Source: PA Governor’s Office

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