Gov. Wolf requests $10 million to fight opioid epidemic

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks in front of Bellefonte Area High School on July 13, 2015. Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/TNS

Gov. Tom Wolf is taking on Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic with a budget proposal, a testament to the crisis’ severity in the face of a looming $3 billion budget deficit.

As part of the proposed 2017-2018 Pennsylvania state budget, Wolf announced last Tuesday that he will request $10 million to equip first responders and law enforcement officers with Naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose victims.

“As this terrible disease continues to devastate our families and communities, we must ensure the widespread access of Naloxone,” said Wolf in his administration’s press release.

The Wolf administration said the $10 million will be made available through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which coordinates and financially supports multiple justice-related programs in Pennsylvania. The funds will be distributed across the state to law enforcement offices. J.J. Abbott, the press secretary for the Wolf administration, could not be reached in time for publication.

This portion of the budget proposal comes as a part of a larger battle against the Pennsylvania opioid epidemic, which contributed to a recorded 2,742 overdoses in 2014. In that same year, Tom Corbett began fighting the epidemic, when he signed Senate Bill 1164, allowing first responders including law enforcement, firefighters and EMS to administer Naloxone to patients experiencing opioid overdose.

The $10 million proposal is supposed to expand access to Naloxone by providing law enforcement with extra funds to purchase the expensive antidote, which has risen from under $1 to over $15 a dose in the past 10 years.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include substances such as heroin, morphine and opium. Naloxone is not an “overdose reversal” drug, as it’s often called, but works by stopping opioids from bonding to the overdose victim’s opioid receptors, allowing the victim to breathe normally.

According to Wolf’s press release, Naloxone reversed more than 2,320 opioid overdoses between November 2014 and now, due to the use of Naloxone by law enforcement and first responders.

Through Naloxone-focused policy, Wolf has been fighting against the epidemic for the past few years. In 2015, Wolf signed a standing order to ensure that all Pennsylvania residents would have access to a Naloxone prescription through any pharmacy.

Wolf will outline the Naloxone portion of the proposal and the rest of the 2017-2018 budget in further detail Tuesday during the annual budget address.

According to Abbott, the budget deficit could rise to as high as $3 billion next year. Efforts to thin that deficit by the Wolf administration include closing SCI Pittsburgh. It’s unclear how this $10 million proposal will affect the deficit, but Wolf maintains that it is a necessary step towards helping those affected by opioid addiction.

“Expanding access to Naloxone is crucial in continuing our fight against the opioid epidemic,” Wolf said in the press release.

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