By Anna Schwartz
Anna Schwartz is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
On January 10th, Governor Tom Wolf declared the opioid crisis a statewide emergency. He spoke about the loss of too many lives. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania has the fourth highest rate of death due to drug overdose in the country: 37.9 out of every 100,000 people.  Yet Wolf reminded citizens in his speech that “those who we have lost are not just numbers.” 
The average person hospitalized for abusing prescription drugs is 54 years old. Admissions for these opioid overdoses have increased four times over between 2010 and 2017 and cost about $27 million in 2016 to Pennsylvania taxpayers.  Even further, most overdose patients are treated in emergency rooms and released without admission; ER data is not included in the analysis of overdose statistics.
Opioids, along with other addictive narcotics, have been federally regulated since the early 1900s. In the past forty years, however, more laws have been passed enabling doctors to treat addicts effectively. The Drug Enforcement Agency was created in 1973 to control illegal markets. Funds for drug prevention programs in schools were allocated to states in the late 1980s, and in 2000, the Drug Addiction Treatment Act allowed physicians to treat addiction in private and clinical offices.  President Donald Trump named the opioid crisis a national “health emergency” because of the 59,000 deaths across the United States in 2016.  Wolf followed Trump’s lead by naming the crisis an emergency. The title intends to call attention to the staggering death rates due to abuse and spark reform aimed at combating the problem.
In Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf has already signed bills into law that limit opioid prescriptions for patients in the ER, or minors in any setting, to seven days without special application. The bills also established an opioid safety curriculum for medical schools, requirements for physicians to double check the necessity of each prescription, and treatment referrals for patients who are at risk of addiction.  Wolf, however, felt that these laws were insufficient to combat the growing crisis.
“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,” the governor said in January.  His policy speech outlined 13 new initiatives. They focus on three missions: providing caretakers the tools to prevent death from overdose, expanding access to treatment, and collecting data to support future laws.
First responders of overdose patients will have increased access to Naloxone, a lifesaving reversal drug. Families of people who are hesitant to seek rehabilitation will thus be able to limit the impact of drug abuse. To connect more addicts with treatment, the plan outlined in the speech waives licensing requirements for medical and recovery centers. This will relieve some of the paperwork burden that inhibits care providers from helping as many people as possible. Another important initiative is the establishment of a command center at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. A group will meet weekly there to monitor the implementation and progress of the new policies.  No new funds will be allocated to treatment, yet the policies promise significant change in Pennsylvania, such as simplifying bureaucracy, facilitating new rehab locations, expediting the admission process, and hiring professionals to oversee the projects.
Wolf admits that the declaration is "not a silver bullet.”  Still, his administration remains dedicated to tackling opioid abuse. Disaster titles are usually reserved for events like tornadoes, hurricanes, and terrorist attacks. The governor labeling the opioid crisis this way shows that he is deeply concerned about the issue. Emergency labels expire after ninety days, and allow for the loosening of regulations. Wolf hopes that his streamlining policies make an impact despite the time crunch. He has also not ruled out issuing another statewide emergency if officials need more than three months to address the problem.  At least until the declaration expires, Pennsylvania is sure to see a change in opioid treatment procedure. Wolf and his team will continue to address the increasingly prevalent issue of drug abuse.
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2. Lubrano, Alfred, Mari A. Schaefer, and Liz Navratil. "Calling opioid crisis a disaster, Wolf trims red tape to speed aid to patients - Philly." Philadelphia Inquirer. January 10, 2018. Accessed February 01, 2018. http://www.philly.com/philly/health/wolf-opioid-addiction-emergency-overdose-fentanyl-pennsylvania-heroin-treatment-narcan-20180110.html.
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7. Roubein, Rachel. "Pa. governor declares statewide disaster for opioid epidemic." The Hill. January 10, 2018. Accessed February 01, 2018. http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/368400-pa-governor-declares-statewide-disaster-for-opioid-epidemic.
8. "Gov. Wolf Declares Heroin and Opioid Epidemic a Disaster Emergency." Governor Tom Wolf. January 10, 2018. Accessed February 01, 2018. https://www.governor.pa.gov/governor-wolf-declares-heroin-and-opioid-epidemic-a-statewide-disaster-emergency/.
9. Lord, Rich, and Liz Navratil. "Wolf's opioid declaration a step forward, but more help needed, some say." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. January 10, 2018. Accessed February 01, 2018. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/politics-state/2018/01/10/gov-tom-wolf-opioid-state-of-emergency-pennsylvania-crisis/stories/201801100121.
10. Lattanzio, Vince. "In a 1st, Pa. Declares Opioid Crisis a State Disaster." NBC 10 Philadelphia. January 10, 2018. Accessed February 01, 2018. https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/health/Gov-Tom-Wolf-Declares-Disaster-Emergency-for-Opioid-Heroin-Crisis-in-Pennsylvania-468629233.html.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Cliff
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