HARRISBURG (KDKA) – Gov. Tom Wolf has signed the 15th renewal of the state’s opioid disaster declaration.
While the opioid disaster declaration has been renewed every 90 days since Jan. 2018, a constitutional amendment approved by voters last May now limits declarations to just 21 days and then requires legislative approval to continue.
But the legislature is now on its 10-week summer break until late September, and Wolf has asked state legislative leaders to call their colleagues back from summer recess in order to extend his emergency order on the opioid crisis.
“As we see a spike in overdoses throughout the commonwealth, there has never been a more important time to concentrate our efforts in helping individuals with substance use disorder, especially opioid use disorder,” said Gov. Wolf in a statement Wednesday.
“This ongoing public health crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It takes coordination from staff and resources to support and sustain our response across Pennsylvania.”
In a letter to House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Senate President Jake Corman, Wolf said legislators need to return to Harrisburg in late August to extend his declaration.
“We really have an addiction crisis or an overdose crisis. It really has expanded beyond opioids at this point,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Jennifer Smith told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.
Smith said the problem got worse during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic really did escalate substance use disorder,” Smith said.
More than 5,100 deaths occurred last year.
Jason Thompson, a spokesperson for Senate President Corman, sent this statement to KDKA:
“Addressing the terrible toll of the opioid crisis remains a top priority for Senator Corman and the Senate Republican Caucus, and we remain committed to working on a bipartisan basis to help individuals and families who have been affected by addiction. At this time, we are still evaluating Governor Wolf’s request to determine whether an extension of the emergency declaration is warranted beyond the end of August. As the governor mentioned in his letter, the most critical resources to fight this epidemic are already established in state law, and many members of the General Assembly have also developed additional plans to help prevent addiction and support individuals in recovery. We will continue to evaluate how we can best address the opioid epidemic in the days and weeks ahead.”
Mike Straub, a spokesperson for House Speaker Cutler, added these words:
“We are reviewing the request from Governor Wolf. Many of the powers first authorized by this declaration are now accomplished through other means. We are currently determining if it’s in the best interest of Pennsylvanians to extend the declaration or continue efforts to address the epidemic through legislation. We remain committed to fighting against the scourge of opioid addiction and are willing to be a collaborative partner with the other branches of government in achieving our shared goals.”