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Gov. Tom Wolf

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania’s 15th emergency declaration for its ongoing opioid crisis expires Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf said.

“The General Assembly has determined that a disaster declaration is no longer our most effective tool against the opioid epidemic, and has declined to extend it,” he said in a news release. “But our fight is not over.” 

The inevitable conclusion of the order comes three weeks after House and Senate leaders told Wolf they wouldn’t reconvene to extend the declaration a 16th time. 

"We have an obligation to support individuals desperately in need of substance use disorder services and supports,” Wolf said Wednesday. “With or without a disaster declaration, this will remain a top priority of my administration.”

House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Quarryville, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, sent a letter to the governor Aug. 5 promising legislative action to further combat the ongoing opioid crisis in the state instead. 

They pointed to more than a dozen bills enacted since 2016 that tackle the state’s response to rising overdose deaths and made assurances about a joint "commitment to continuing our vital work in the weeks, months and year ahead." 

Lawmakers must approve disaster declarations that extend beyond 21 days, per a constitutional amendment adopted during the May primary election.

The House isn't set to return to session until Sept. 27. The Senate is scheduled for Sept. 20. 

Without action, the administration worries the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) will no longer be as accessible to the agencies that use it to prevent overprescribing or mixing of medications that could be fatal for patients.

The governor said the pandemic has worsened the struggle for residents with drug addiction. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 26% increase in overdoses nationwide, while preliminary data shows Pennsylvania’s own rate climbed 16% in 2020 – the second-deadliest year behind 2017.

“We made a lot of progress before the COVID-19 pandemic struck,” he said, pointing to the lowered rate of overdose deaths that’s since been reversed as result of the “isolation and disruption caused by the pandemic.”

“Now more than ever, it is essential that we continue our efforts to fight stigma, increase access to treatment and reduce deaths related to substance use disorder,” he said.

A spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus told The Center Square earlier this month that issues with the PDMP and others may be better addressed through legislation instead of extensions of emergency orders. 

Cutler and Corman didn’t specifically mention the monitoring program in their joint letter but invited the governor to provide his “specific recommendations” so the Legislature can continue its “collaborative work.” 

“We agree this epidemic has not gone away, but rather, remains as a more critical issue as ever as we move our Commonwealth forward, past the COVID-19 pandemic,” the leaders said.

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.

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