On Wednesday, September 28th, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) talked to the General Assembly in a Joint Session regarding the state’s plan to tackle the heroin and opioid crisis as he said he would do earlier this month.
Wolf issued the following statement about the importance of working together to fight the opioid epidemic, “We have shown that we can work together to make Pennsylvania the great place we know it can be. It is now time to do so again and give the people of Pennsylvania a reason to believe in their leaders… It is up to us to tackle the opioid crisis and give Pennsylvania the prosperous, healthy, and safe future we know it deserves. I look forward to a productive session and real progress toward stopping the opioid epidemic. Let us, here in Pennsylvania, lead the nation in fighting this crisis.”
Wolf also talked about several important things the state needs to do in its effort to curb the opioid crisis as he addressed the General Assembly. Bills will need to be passed before some of the items can take effect.
One topic Wolf discussed is making the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program stronger. Although doctors only have to check the system when they first prescribe opioids to a patient, the system should be checked every time an opioid is prescribed or if they think a patient may be suffering from addiction. What’s more, dispensers only have to put data in the database within 72 hours after a prescription has been issued. According to Wolf, this time frame should be 24 hours.
These changes to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program should aid pharmacists and doctors in figuring out when doctors are over-prescribing their patients or when a patient is doctor shopping. In addition, officials at the state level need to know when these issues are occurring in order to fight the drug abuse problem.
Wolf also said that education needs to be both enhanced and increased. There should be improvements in medical school and continual education about opioids. Through education, doctors will be able to tell when a patient may be addicted to substances and help them get treatment if they are addicted. According to Wolf, schools should be required to teach students about the misuse of opioids when alcohol and drug abuse education is taught.
Another topic Wolf talked about is limiting opioid prescriptions to minors and patients in the emergency room. Patients in the emergency room should only be prescribed a seven day supply of opioids without any refills. Those restrictions should also be placed on minors in any medical setting. According to Wolf, physicians would still be able to prescribe opioids for patients suffering from extreme pain.
Wolf also talked about insurance coverage for abuse deterrent opioids. According to Wolf, insurance companies should have to cover abuse deterrent opioids. Massachusetts already has such a law. When insurance companies are required to cover abuse deterrent opioids, it will be harder for people to abuse prescription drugs. Wolf noted that people also crush pills to smoke or snort in addition to swallowing pills. Drug manufacturers are working on technology to stop people from abusing pills in this manner.
Finally, Wolf said patients should have the ability to establish a voluntary directive if they do not want opioids prescribed to them. The directive would allow patients to refuse or deny opioid prescriptions.
Wolf thanked the House and Senate for their work in helping with the addiction crisis. He said, “I want to thank the House and the Senate for their dedication to ensuring that those suffering from the disease of addiction are getting the treatment that they need. With ten Pennsylvanians a day being lost to this horrible epidemic, working together for quick action is more important than ever.”
More than 3,500 Pennsylvanians died due to drug overdoses in 2015, or 10 people died per day. In 2014, over 2,500 people died from drug overdoses.