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Gov. Wolf To Address Joint Session On Opioid Epidemic


When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf brings his message on combating the opioid epidemic to a joint session of the state legislature Wednesday, he will be speaking to a group that for the most part is already aware of the issue.

“They’re all fed up with this,” said State Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver, Greene, Washington) of her constituents.  “It’s a scourge and they know that we have to all stand together and try every angle we possibly can.”

Last year, more than 3,000 Pennsylvanians died of an opioid overdose including 424 in Allegheny County.

Some lawmakers, including House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) had called for the legislature to hold a special session to debate opioid-related legislation and potentially vote on those bills.

“Opioid overdoses and deaths cut across all age groups, economic sectors and racial demographics,” said Turzai. “This isn’t a partisan issue. We have been fighting it for years in the House.”

That request was rejected and replaced with the joint session speech from the governor.

“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,” said Wolf in a written statement.

Among the bills awaiting votes in both chambers is one from Sen. Bartolotta that would limit prescriptions for painkillers written in emergency rooms from the current 30 days to seven days. She said that would help prevent addiction.

“Because four out of five people addicted to heroin started with prescription opioids,” she said. “It’s destroying hundreds of thousands of lives. We have to attack it hard and we have to attack it now.”

Bartolotta represents part of Beaver County where 37 opioid-related drug deaths were reported in 2015. She said the state needs to take a multi-pronged approach.

“We have to start with the little, little kids,” she said. “We have to show even 10-year-olds the destructive life that happens when you become addicted to any kind of a substance, but in particular opioids and heroin.”

The Republican is calling for combating opioids to be a budget priority with additional funds going to long-term recovery programs, education programs and efforts to place the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone in the hands of every first responder in the state.