PHILADELPHIA, PA — Governor Tom Wolf, state leaders, and community partners visited the Philadelphia neighborhood, Kensington, and Esperanza Health Center on Thursday to discuss the devastating affects of the opioid epidemic and what can be done to help curb the increase in overdoses throughout the commonwealth.
“Tragically, opioid-related deaths are not a new problem in Pennsylvania and the Kensington community we toured… has been particularly hard hit by this crisis,” said Gov. Wolf. “Every death caused by an overdose is a tragedy. Each statistic represents our family members, loved ones, and neighbors. They deserve our help to get quality treatment and support. I am committed to fight for the people and communities harmed by the opioid epidemic and the disease of addiction.”’
Gov. Wolf was joined by Senator Christine Tartaglione, Representative Angel Cruz, Esperanza Health Center Executive Director Susan Post and Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith.
“The opioid epidemic is at a crisis stage throughout the commonwealth and across the country but in many ways, we are standing here… at Ground Zero,” said Sen. Tartaglione. “The toll it has taken on human lives is immeasurable. There is no way to put a number on the emotional despair and physical pain felt by the people trapped in addiction and the families – the children – who live in this community and are forced to experience what we saw… every day. I hope today marks a new beginning in our effort to stop the opioid epidemic and rebuild Kensington.”
“We’ve been facing an epidemic in Kensington, and I want to personally thank the governor for meeting the community to see with his own eyes what we are fighting for in this opioid crisis,” said Rep. Cruz. “Only when all branches of government work in unison can we resolve these issues.”
“For years, Esperanza Health Center has experienced the devastation caused by the opioid crisis in Kensington. This epidemic has reached catastrophic proportions as it is destroying thousands of lives,” said Susan Post, CEO of Esperanza Health Center. “We, along with other Kensington organizations and advocates, will not let it destroy our community. But, we cannot do it alone.”
In 2017, Pennsylvania saw a record number of overdose deaths. In January 2018 Gov. Wolf signed the first opioid disaster declaration to help break down government silos and bring together 17 state agencies to address the opioid overdose epidemic. The worked under the opioid disaster declaration helped decrease overdose deaths throughout the commonwealth by nearly 20 percent from 2017 to the end of 2019. Unfortunately, preliminary 2020 data shows an increase in overdoses like the 2017 death count. Further, Pennsylvania anticipates a similarly high number of overdose deaths in 2021.
The opioid disaster declaration was renewed 15 times until the General Assembly let the latest disaster declaration expire on August 25. With the expiration of the declaration, state agencies lost the ability to share data through the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) which has proved to be an important tool in monitoring the prescriptions of deadly and dangerous opiates to Pennsylvanians and supported the commonwealth’s efforts to curb overdose deaths. To reinstate this data sharing, the General Assembly must pass legislation.
“At a time when we’re seeing a staggering number of overdose deaths across Pennsylvania,” said DDAP Secretary Smith. “It’s more important than ever to reaffirm our commitment to the addiction crisis and recommit to what we know works such as getting naloxone into the hands of all Pennsylvanians, enhancing the quality of drug and alcohol services, expanding warm handoff programs, continuing partnerships to provide police diversion programs, and working with the legislature to enact significant harm reduction legislation such as syringe service programs and fentanyl test strips which can save lives, and enhancements to the PDMP.”
“I encourage the General Assembly to urgently turn their attention to renewing that data sharing capability, so that we can make sure every Pennsylvania agency has the information they need to work toward our shared goal of reducing overdose deaths,” said Gov. Wolf. “We’ve made progress against the opioid epidemic before, and by working together, we can do it again.”
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