At the urging of state Sens. Tim Kearney and Anthony Williams, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing last week to address the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania, in the wake of a related 2018 disaster declaration.
State senators, as well as health officials and advocates, county officials, and the Pennsylvania sheriffs, were in attendance. They addressed the state of the state, including what they hope to achieve and what Pennsylvania has already achieved.
“The opioid epidemic has hit our communities hard, and it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to prevent addiction, get people into treatment and save lives,” Kearney said. “This hearing will be critical to developing the bold plans we need to tackle this crisis head-on and provide communities with the resources they need.”
Raphael Barishansky, deputy director of Health Preparedness and Community Protection at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, noted that the state can now track opioid overdose and recovery statistics, and provide overdose reversal drugs throughout the state — a major change from just two years ago. As of Dec. 7, 2019, 29,610 doses of Naloxone were administered by emergency medical services to help reverse opioid overdoses, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Barishansky put a success figure to this as well: more than 7,102 lives saved.
Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, encouraged a holistic approach, including outside the box thinking like acupuncture, chiropractors, and yoga to help reduce dependence on opioids for pain management. Additionally, she urged a combination of safe recovery housing, evidence-based prevention programs, and medication-assisted treatment programs to prevent future overdose and relapses.
Pennsylvania pharmacist Daniel Ventricelli added that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone — the most effective treatments for overdose death prevention — should be made easier to obtain.