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Governor Wolf Announces Opioid Epidemic Statewide Disaster, Allowing State to Override Rules and Regs

January 10, 2018

Today, Governor Wolf held a press conference to declare the current opioid epidemic sweeping Pennsylvania to be a public health emergency and signed a statewide disaster declaration.
Governor Wolf described the declaration as “using every tool at my disposal to get those suffering from substance use disorders into treatment, save more lives, and improve response coordination.” 

The declaration focuses on three areas:

  • Enhancing coordination and data collection to bolster state and local response
  • Improving tools for families, first responders, and others to save lives
  • Expanding access to treatment

Some specific elements of the declaration include:

  • The creation of an opioid operation command center within the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to serve as a centralized clearinghouse for all state agencies responsible for any element regarding the opioid epidemic, including the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the Department of Corrections
  • A naloxone “leave behind” program that permits emergency medical services entities to leave behind a dose of naloxone when an overdose has occurred and the individual does not want to be transported or sent to treatment
  • Ensuring that Naloxone is available for individuals upon discharge from a prison or treatment center
  • The rescheduling of fentanyl derivatives to be consistent with the Drug Enforcement Agency schedule, giving law enforcement additional tools to block availability of these substances
  • Increased reporting requirements for individuals who overdose and also cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome to the Department of Health
  • Waiving annual licensing requirements for high-performing drug and alcohol treatment facilities to better utilize staff time
  • Waiving separate licensing requirements for hospitals and emergency departments to allow for expanded access to drug and alcohol treatment

This one-page fact sheet summarizes the declaration.

Typically, in Pennsylvania, a declaration of this type is used in cases of extreme weather or natural disasters in order to free up regulatory burdens and funding. Last fall, President Trump declared the opioid problem a public health emergency. Since then, other states have made similar declarations.

Per the Pennsylvania Constitution, the declaration will last 90 days.  Within that 90 days, Governor Wolf indicated they hope to learn new and better ways to address the opioid epidemic effectively and efficiently given the nine different agencies working together through the command center.

The declaration does not give the authority to create new laws or regulations.

HAP has been supporting Pennsylvania hospitals and health systems as they implement safe prescribing guidelines, “warm handoffs” to connect overdose survivors to treatment options, and other efforts to address the opioid epidemic.

For more information please contact Scott Bishop, HAP’s senior vice president, legislative advocacy, Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice president, state legislative advocacy, or Michael J. Consuelos, MD, HAP’s senior vice president, clinical integration.

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