Pennsylvania Declares a State of Emergency for the Opioid Epidemic
Physicians on the front lines respond
Last week Pennsylvania became the sixth state in the country to declare a state of emergency for the heroin and opioid epidemic. With over 4,600 drug overdose deaths in 2016 alone, and over 5,000 deaths estimated for 2017, this declaration comes at a critical time for Pennsylvanians. It also presents opportunities for health care providers to innovate in their approaches to identifying and treating substance use disorder patients.
Governor Wolf stated this move allows him 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 specific initiatives the state will pursue fall into three areas of focus:
- Enhancing coordination and data collection to bolster state and local response, including expanded access to Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) data
- Improving tools for families, first responders, and others to save lives – through increased access to naloxone
- Speeding up and expanding access to treatment
The response among policymakers, advocates, police, and providers has been optimistic, but cautious. To combat the epidemic, the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) has already assembled a task force that aims to: improve opioid stewardship, improve treatment of chronic noncancer pain, improve access to high quality addiction services, and improve education related to pain, the use of opioids, and the diagnosis and treatment of addiction. We asked LDI Senior Fellows, physicians on the front lines of the epidemic, to share their insights on the impact of declaration and what could mean for the work currently taking place at UPHS.
Michael Ashburn, MD, MPH, MBA, an anesthesiologist who currently serves on the Pennsylvania House Advisory Committee on Opioid Addiction and the Pennsylvania State Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse, voiced his approval, and his hope that the declaration would facilitate and support UPHS efforts. “I am delighted Governor Wolf took this step, as it clearly states that we are in a public health crisis.” He continued:
Jeanmarie Perrone, MD, an emergency medicine physician and member of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic, also noted the opportunity for increased access to PDMP data, as well as her hopes that the declaration would improve surveillance systems in Philadelphia and reduce “roadblocks” to getting patients into treatment:
Zachary Meisel, MD, MPH, MSHP, also an emergency medicine physician who served on the Mayor’s opioid task force, applauded the declaration and pointed to a number of provisions that could have tangible effects: