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Wolf Administration Eyes Stimulant Use, Adds Resources For Families Affected By Opioid Deaths

Steven Senne
In this Monday, Oct. 1, 2018 photo, Michael Robinson, of North Reading, Mass., in recovery from heroin addiction, stands for a photo in a hallway outside his mother's apartment, in North Reading.

The Wolf administration is adding resources to fight opioid addiction and prevent overdoses, while pointing to the rising problem of non-opioid drugs such as stimulants.

Here are key updates from a Thursday press conference with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and department officials.

Tracking stimulant use

Opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania decreased 18 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year.

However, the Wolf administration says it's seeing troubling evidence that stimulant use is on the rise, and is contributing to overdose deaths.

Wolf said the opioid command center has been tracking overdoses and is expanding its role to deal with this problem.

Overdoses involving drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine are leading some counties to report a preliminary increase in overdose deaths for 2019, said Drug and Alcohol Department Secretary Jennifer Smith.

"What we're hearing from coroners is that there's a lot of polysubstance abuse, so individuals who are using both opioids and stimulants," Smith said. 

Smith said the department is planning a symposium to decide how to further address stimulant abuse.

Help for families

When someone who dies of a drug overdose was a parent, it's often grandparents and other family members who step in to raise the children.

An estimated 77,000 families are in such situations at any one time, said Human Services Secretary Theresa Miller, citing data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That data is likely a low estimate, Miller said. 

That's why the Wolf administration is starting a call center called "Kin Connector" that provides resources for families, she said.

People can call 1-866-KIN-2111 and will be able to talk with someone who can connect them with available resources.

"Kinship navigators will connect grandparents and other relatives who are raising children with resources such as health, financial and legal services, support groups, training and parenting advice," Miller said.

Student loan relief for medical practitioners who are helping out

The administration has also allocated $4.8 million in grants to help medical practitioners to pay off student loans, said Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

That goes to 92 people, including physicians, psychiatrists, and others who have committed to focusing on opioid use disorder in high-need areas.

That includes places like Philadelphia, Allegheny, Dauphin, York and Lancaster counties, which are considered "high opioid-use areas," said Health Department spokesman Nate Wardle.

"The other factor would be those counties where there are shortages of health care practitioners," Wardle said.