An “all hands on deck approach” to combating Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic is helping bring statistics down, Gov. Tom Wolf said at the state's first summit on the topic this week.
Wolf, who offered up opening remarks at the beginning of the two-day Opioid Command Center Summit, spoke to more than 200 professionals in community organizations, nonprofits, schools, health care workers, addiction and recovery specialists and families impacted by the crisis.
Pennsylvania made headlines in 2017 when it was ranked as one of the highest in the country for deaths linked to opioid-related overdoses.
Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pegged the number of Pennsylvania deaths in 2017 at 44.3 for every 100,000 persons. By comparison, the national average that year was 21.7 deaths for every 100,000 persons.
This past year, drug overdose statistics across the state reportedly went down 18 percent – a statistic Wolf and other state officials noted during the summit.
“We have a lot of work to do, but I think we can take great pride in the progress Pennsylvania has made,” Wolf told attendees at the summit, which was held in the town of Boalsburg. “Coming together, talking, doing what you’re doing today – it’s still so important.”
In his opening remarks, Wolf said the progress that has been forged to date has come at the hands of a multi-pronged, bipartisan effort.
“Pennsylvania has gone from doing very little with this … but we’ve actually gotten to a point where organizations such as the AMA (American Medical Association) are actually touting Pennsylvania as a place where we’re getting some things done,” Wolf said.
Under his administration, Wolf said numerous agencies have been able to take steps to combat the opioid epidemic through creative solutions.
Examples he gave in his address include the distribution of 50,000 naloxone kits to emergency medical services first responders. Naloxone, a narcotic, is a medication used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose.
Within the past year, Wolf said more than 30,000 doses of naloxone have been administered in emergency situations across the state.
Other examples Wolf cited in his address were the expansion of medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, in state correctional facilities. By using MAT grants, Wolf said health care facilities are able to remove the need for pre-authorization from most private health insurances in the state.
Wolf said the collaboration across party lines and different professions is helping Pennsylvania turn the corner on the epidemic.
“What you all are doing with the opioid epidemic, in working together, shows what we could actually do if we did this kind of work in every issue that affects the people of Pennsylvania,” Wolf said.
Other speakers on the first day of the summit included Jennifer Smith, Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Secretary. She touted the decline in overdoses, but prefaced her remarks by stating, “We’re still seeing way too many deaths.”
“We’re really working in a challenging time, but we’re also working in a very exciting time for people who come passionate about this work.” Smith said.