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06/17/2019

Gov. Wolf Signs Sixth Opioid Disaster Declaration Renewal, Announces New Initiatives

Harrisburg, PA - Governor Tom Wolf today signed the sixth renewal of his opioid disaster declaration, put in to place in January 2018 as a mechanism for state agencies, third-party organizations and stakeholders to work collaboratively, loosen regulations that slow down access to treatment, and increase efforts on prevention, treatment, and recovery for thousands of Pennsylvanians suffering from the opioid crisis.

“I first signed the disaster declaration so the commonwealth would have every tool at its disposal to battle this health crisis and I have witnessed this collaborative effort grow and succeed,” Gov. Wolf said. “We continue to make improvements upon our strategy and find new techniques to reach people affected by the epidemic.

“I recently stopped by a meeting of the Opioid Command Center and saw firsthand the commitment and vigilance of the members who have been meeting weekly for a year and a half to strategize.”

The governor was joined by Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman, Sec. of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, Sec. of Drug and Alcohol Programs Jennifer Smith, members of the Command Center, and legislators as he signed the renewal and announced two new initiatives: guidance on naloxone and insurance, and the release of the Opioid Data Dashboard 2.0.

In 2018, Dr. Rachel Levine issued a standing order for naloxone so loved ones, medical professionals and anyone interested in accessing this life-saving medication would have access to it. Now, the Insurance Department is working to encourage insurers to consider the circumstances surrounding a naloxone prescription as underwriters review potential health, life and other policies.

Commissioner Altman outlined the naloxone insurance guidance, stating, “In a notice that will appear in the Pennsylvania Bulletin tomorrow, my department will issue guidance to insurers regarding the issuing and setting premiums for policies for which health status may be considered, such as life and short-term health insurance policies, where the applicant or enrollee has naloxone, or other opioid overdose reversal agents, in their prescription history.

“Our department strongly urges carriers to gather sufficient information to determine in what context an applicant or enrollee has obtained the prescription. Prior to issuing an underwriting decision or making a rating decision, we encourage carriers to consider the reason for and intended use of an opioid reversal agent prescription.”

Consumers who feel they may have been discriminated against due to an opioid reversal agent prescription may file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, which will conduct an investigation.

Dr. Levine presented the latest online resource that’s helping to battle the opioid crisis: the Opioid Data Dashboard 2.0.

“As we continue this effort, we are working on enhancing our tools to heighten our response and help communities identify where they need to target their efforts,” Dr. Levine said. “We launched the Opioid Data Dashboard in February 2018 to help communities, counties and the entire state focus on areas that have been hit particularly hard, and ways to assist those affected. Today, the Opioid Data Dashboard 2.0 launches, thanks to the tremendous support of the University of Pittsburgh, and funding from the Aetna Foundation.”

The Data Dashboard 2.0 includes new metrics focusing on the community, the economy and criminal justice and the impacts of the opioid crisis on families and children through neonatal abstinence syndrome, among other data points.

Data included on the dashboard also includes:

  • Prevention information, such as the progress of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and its role in reducing the number of opioids dispensed and the number of opioid seizures and arrests by the Pennsylvania State Police.
  • Rescue information including the number of doses of naloxone administered and the number of calls to the Department of Drug and Alcohol Program’s hotline.
  • Treatment data and information showing the availability of drug and alcohol treatment facilities within the state, the number of people receiving medication-assisted treatment, and the locations of the single county authorities, instrumental in the communities to help those in need.

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Sec. Jennifer Smith outlined how Pennsylvania and its Opioid Command Center are using federal State Opioid Response, or SOR, funds on innovative, collaborative projects.

“A true testament of this successful collaboration has been the innovative projects that the administration has developed with the approximately $108 million in federal funding Pennsylvania has received to fight the opioid epidemic,” Sec. Smith said.

In October 2018, the Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration awarded Pennsylvania $55.9 in federal grant funding to further its efforts to battle this epidemic.

A portion of the funding is being used to continue efforts to expand access to medication-assisted treatment and directly provide counties with funding to help the uninsured and underinsured access treatment.

In addition to continuing those established projects, the administration has used the federal funding to develop innovative initiatives that not only address an individual’s addiction, but the barriers that interfere with living a healthy life in sustained recovery, such as housing and expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for inmates in the state’s prisons.

Recently, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs has partnered with the Department of Health to launch Pennsylvania’s Substance Use Disorder loan repayment program.

There is a shortage of doctors and clinicians specializing in opioid treatment and rural areas often have a hard time attracting a workforce.

To help bridge this gap, the administration allocated $5 million into a loan repayment program for individuals practicing where high use of opioids and overdose deaths are evident and where a shortage of health care providers exists.

“The commonwealth enters the sixth disaster declaration renewal with preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control continuing to indicate a decrease in opioid overdose deaths in the state,” Gov. Wolf said. “And while that’s good news, we know we have more work to do and so will continue to identify problem areas and find new solutions for addressing opioid use disorder. And we will not let up until we have won the battle against opioids in our commonwealth.”

Through the collaborative efforts of the Opioid Command Center and its partners, Pennsylvania has:

  • Removed about 285 tons of prescription drugs from our streets through take-back boxes,
  • Connected more than 5,000 Pennsylvanians to treatment through a warm hand-off program,
  • Assisted more than 18,000 individuals with accessing treatment through one of our Centers of Excellence,
  • Provided guidance to more than 43,000 individuals who have called our 1-800-Get-Help-Now hotline,
  • Administered 21,419 live-saving doses of naloxone.
  • Distributed more than 6,000 naloxone kits during “Get Help Now Day” in December,
  • Implemented dozens of initiatives to increase access to treatment, aid in recovery, and innovatively spend federal State Opioid Response dollars to maximize their benefit.

Find more information on the state’s response to the opioid crisis here.

Read the full disaster declaration renewal here.

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