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Pennsylvania governor declares opioids a public health emergency

With fatal drug overdoses continuing to mount by the thousands, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared the ongoing addiction and opioids crisis a public health emergency, setting up a framework to allow the state to respond to the crisis like it would a natural disaster.

The emergency declaration allows for more coordination among state agencies to fight the crisis. It also makes it easier for people to access treatment programs. Additionally, emergency responders who come to the scene of a drug overdose are allowed to leave behind naloxone, an overdose reversal drug that has saved thousands of lives.

Move comes amid police drug seizures

The announcement by Wolf coincided with Pennsylvania State Police announcing that they seized more than $41 million in illegal drugs in 2017. That haul included 227 pounds of heroin and fentanyl, which are the two drugs largely responsible for the spike in overdose deaths.

Hopefully the emergency declaration and the easing of access to treatment means that police will continue to focus more on getting people addicted to their narcotics the help they need, which is usually not found when behind bars.

However, police and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office announced that they will continue to pursue drug dealers and doctors who prescribe too many opioids. Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently announced that his office is charging a Jefferson County doctor for prescribing opioids to patients who were struggling with addiction.

The trouble with fighting the addiction crisis is that drugs like Oxycontin, fentanyl, Percocet and other painkillers are still medically necessary for many people who are struggling with debilitating physical pain.

The approach to the “War on Drugs” of the 1980s and today’s war on addiction is drastically different by stressing recovery over punishment. However, efforts like these often end up with people behind bars who would benefit much more from treatment. Even people accused of being drug dealers may be also struggling with addiction. It will be worth monitoring how this state of emergency unfolds and whether more people receive treatment, or if more people end up under arrest.

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