At the request of State Senators Tim Kearney (D- 26th Dist.) and Anthony H. Williams (D – 8th Dist.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee recently held a hearing on combating the opioid addiction epidemic in Pennsylvania.
“The opioid epidemic has hit our communities hard, and it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to prevent addiction, get people into treatment and save lives,” Kearney said. “This hearing will be critical to developing the bold plans we need to tackle this crisis head on and provide communities with the resources they need.”
“The opioid epidemic has hit Philadelphia particularly hard,” Williams added. “We need to find compassionate solutions for getting these drugs out of our communities, and for healing the individuals and families who have been harmed most by opioid addiction.”
In his testimony, Raphael M. Barishansky, deputy director of health preparedness and community protection at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said that since Governor Tom Wolf declared a disaster declaration on Jan. 10, 2018, Pennsylvania can now track opioid overdose and recovery statistics, as well as provide the lifesaving overdose reversal drug widely across the state through a standing order by the state Physician General.
According to the Opioid Data Dashboard compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there have been 29,610 doses of Naloxone Administered by emergency medical services from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 7, 2019. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, can help reverse opioid overdoses.
“These efforts have resulted in more than 7,102 reported overdose reversals to date,” Barishansky said.
In 2017, Philadelphia had the highest rates of deaths resulting from overdose in Pennsylvania with 1,118. Pittsburgh had the second highest rate of overdose deaths with 487.
Dr. Valerie A. Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, as well as a physician anesthesiologist with a master’s in public health, recommended to the Policy Committee that preventing future opioid overdose and preventing relapses of those in recovery will require a combination of safe recovery housing, evidence-based prevention programs, and medication assisted treatment programs.
Arkoosh also said that mandated insurance coverage for alternative pain management like acupuncture, chiropractors and yoga would prevent patients from becoming reliant on opioids in their pain management treatments.
“We really need to take a holistic approach here,” Arkoosh said.
Pennsylvania pharmacist Daniel Ventricelli said that medication assisted treatment (MAT) such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone, should not be as difficult to obtain as they are currently. He said that MAT has been proven to be the most effective treatment to prevent overdose deaths.
“If you want to save lives, medication assisted treatment in the way to do that,” Rosemarie Halt, senior director of policy at the Maternity Care Coalition, said.
Halt said that MAT saves lives, and social services, like those provided by Maternity Care Coalition, help to rebuild lives and keep people and family healthy long term.
“We can’t afford to stand still when it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic,” Senator Lisa M. Boscola (D-18th Dist.) who chairs the policy committee, said. “We always need to be evaluating what works and what doesn’t. Education and access to treatment is critical.”
Senators Steve Santarsiero (D-10th Dist.), Sharif Street (D- 3rd Dist.), and Reps. Leanne Krueger (D- 161st Dist.) and Mike Zabel (D- 163rd Dist.) were in attendance at the hearing.