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governor tom wolfPennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) is pressing for a Joint Session of the General Assembly sometime in the fall to discuss the heroin and opioid problem that is affecting the state.

Before Wolf requested the Joint Session, he had asked for a special session. Wolf explained that he now wants a Joint Session rather than a special session in a September 16th news release. Wolf stated the following, “After consultation and discussion with legislative leaders, I believe we share the view that we can make the most profound and positive impact for the people of Pennsylvania by dealing with this issue as part of the remainder of the 2015-16 Legislative Session through a Joint Session, rather than calling a Special Session… 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. However, we can and should, do more. I look forward to continuing to work with the legislature to continue to address this epidemic that we all care deeply about.”

According to the news release, a Joint Session is more “timely and efficient” than a special session. In order for a special session to take place, bills would have to be introduced again, and co-sponsor memos would need to be circulated. Wolf would not see each individual bill for at least 6 legislative days. In addition, there would have to be special session committees that would look over each new bill. Then, each new bill would have to be voted on in the House or Senate. The entire process would take two weeks or more.

Some bills that deal with the drug crisis were previously passed in both the House and the Senate during the present legislative session. These bills should be at Wolf’s desk quicker than they would be if a special session were to take place. According to a news release which explains why Wolf is asking for a Join Session, “A four caucus workgroup has been working diligently throughout the summer to build consensus on these bills, and we are hopeful that by calling for a joint session, we can move many of these to the Governor’s desk for signature without further delay.”

The goals that Wolf hopes to accomplish through the legislative session include the following: “require doctors and prescribers to check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Database every time they prescribe, increase education about opioid and pain management for current and future medical professionals, limit the quantities of opioids that can be prescribed in emergency rooms to a patient at one time, require insurance carriers to cover abuse deterrent opioids at the same cost as their non-abuse deterrent counterparts, add opioid misuse to existing public school curriculum on drug and alcohol abuse, and establish a voluntary directive for patients who don’t wish to receive opioids in their medical care.”

The next move would need to come from the Legislature before the Joint Session can take place. The Pennsylvania House will be back in session on Monday, while the Senate will be back in session in a week. According to Wolf, 10 people die of overdoses each day in Pennsylvania on average.

The Wolf administration has already made some efforts to battle the opioid crisis. Within the 2016-2017 budget is funding for 45 centers of excellence (COE) that can treat almost 11,000 people who suffer from substance abuse. The new Prescription Drug Monitoring Program was rolled out by the Pennsylvania Department of Health in August. In an effort to reduce painkiller abuse, there are also new guidelines regarding painkiller prescriptions. Finally, there is a Prescription Drug Take-Back Program in Pennsylvania that lets people dispose of unwanted and/or unused prescriptions in a safe manner. There are almost 520 take-back boxes at Pennsylvania police stations. Over 145,000 pounds of prescription drugs have been disposed of through the program since 2015.