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Wolf To Renew Opioid Disaster Declaration

Gov. Tom Wolf plans to renew a disaster declaration to deal with the state's opioid crisis

In January, Gov. Tom Wolf addressed the blight of opioid addiction by issuing a statewide disaster declaration. But those declarations, which are more commonly used for natural catastrophes, expire after 90 days. On Tuesday, Wolf said he intends to renew it.

“It really will allow us another 90 days to continue to do the good things that I think we’ve already don't," Wolf said. "We want to give those a little bit longer time to work.”

Wolf said the declarations “do allow us to experiment, to try things, and without a lot of the delays” the state would otherwise face. For example, he recently moved to list synthetic fentanyl – a dangerous additive often used by addicts – as a prohibited substance. But he acknowledged, “We can’t keep going on with disaster declarations. … [C]learly the thing that we’re trying to do is figure out what works, how working together helps, and then go to the legislature and say, ‘These things seem to be working. Let’s move on these … so we don’t have to do these with a continual disaster declaration.’”

Wolf said it was too early to gauge the effect of the first emergency declaration: “We have only been doing this for less than 90 days, so there really isn’t much in the way of that.” But he pointed to several signs of effectiveness, chief among them increases in the availability of Naloxone, which can save the lives of overdose victims if administered in times. Wolf cited a 31 percent increase in Naloxone doses provided to first-responders like paramedics and firefighters.

“These are more people who are being brought back from overdoses,” he said. "That’s more people who can be alive to receive treatment to go into recovery.”

Some critics observe that addicts may rely on Naloxone to pull them back from the brink, and that the drug can thus fuel their addiction. Wolf acknowledged that criticism, saying the life-saving drug can itself be abused. But according to the governor, some rescued abusers say, “’I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to get into recovery and I want to get into treatment.’ … I think that makes it worthwhile.”

Wolf also discussed s series of election reforms he championed last week. The measures cover a gamut of issues, including proposals making it easier to vote by absentee ballot, limits on the size of campaign contributions, and a less partisan approach to drawing legislative boundaries.

Was there any likelihood of progress on any of those topics, given a Republican-controlled legislature in a election cycle in which Wolf faces re-election?

 “That’s a good question,” he said. While he said there could be progress on the drawing of legislative lines – which the state Supreme Court upended by requiring a new Congressional map this year – he said the outlook was murkier on reforming campaign financing.

 “I think it’s really important that we address that in Pennsylvania right now,” he said. “The sky’s the limit -- actually there is no limit on individuals writing checks to campaigns.”

It’s not that his re-election prospects are suffering under the status quo.

According to campaign-finance reports filed this week, Mr. Wolf raised over $4.9 million in campaign contributions in the first three months of the year. He started the year with just over $11 million, and after spending, he has nearly $15 million in the bank.

That was far more than his three Republican rivals, who raised a little more than $3.7 million between them. Most of that was raised by state Senator Scott Wagner, whose $2.8 million in fundraising was boosted mightily by money paid from his own pocket.

Some of the governor’s biggest donors included unions. A statewide teachers union, and a union of service employees each gave him $500,000, for example. He also received $250,000 from a national Democratic governor’s organization, and another $250,000 from a Florida-based e-commerce executive.  

Wolf said his fundraising success doesn’t make the issue any less important to him, but for now, “I gotta play by the rules as they are.” And he, jokingly added, “I’m pretty good at it.”