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Pennsylvania needs more than public health emergency

January 16, 2018
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf last week signed a statewide disaster declaration, designating the opioid crisis a public health emergency. The aim is to enhance responses from the state and first responders while increasing access to treatment.

For example, in order to speed up admissions, face-to-face exams with physicians will not be required for medication assisted treatment programs, and emergency medical personnel may leave naloxone kits behind for those who are at risk, according to the governor’s office. Additionally, the state hotline, 1-800-622-HELP, which helps individuals find treatment, appears to be granted an emergency renewal.

Treatment center operators in the state believe the declaration is a positive sign, but there are still challenges to address, such as keeping patients engaged in treatment. According to Peter Schorr, CEO of Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers, rather than temporarily relaxing guidelines, the state should consider larger insurance coverage reforms that would have greater impact.

“We believe that patients need—and deserve—to have more time in treatment,” Schorr tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive. “While inpatient treatment for patients in Pennsylvania averages 22 days, individuals have less of a chance to relapse with six to eight weeks of treatment.”

He also wants to see a regulatory commitment to ensure the quality of care for patients receiving addiction treatment and recovery services.

“Having specific criteria and standards would be incredibly beneficial for patients in the long run,”  he says.

Building momentum

Wolf’s declaration builds on previous initiatives aimed at combatting addiction and overdose deaths, such as Pennsylvania’s program to designate centers of excellence and standing orders to allow naloxone dispensing without a prescription. However, provisions in the declaration expire in 90 days.

“The initiative is important in addressing the prevalence of overdose deaths—over 66,000 last year—however, it is limited in duration and treatment options are primarily directed only toward one type of treatment,” said Deni Carise, PhD, chief scientific officer at Recovery Centers of America, in a statement. “It does not speak to broader substance abuse and mental health services to address issues that often underlie addiction. Naloxone will treat the overdose, but it doesn't treat the addiction.” 

The state has been hard-hit, earning the fourth highest overdose rate in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Pennsylvania is not the first state to institute some type of emergency. Massachusetts declared a public health emergency in March 2014, followed by several other states over the past few years, including Florida, Arizona, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina.

President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency late last year, and that declaration expires January 23.

 

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