Four Years Later: Pennsylvania Opioid Disaster Declaration Continues to Open Doors for Progress, Treatment, and Recovery

Much like COVID-19, the prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic continues to plague the public health of Pennsylvania. It affects individuals across the commonwealth — from big cities to rural communities.

Every day, Pennsylvania loses 14 Pennsylvanians to substance use disorder overdoses. Preliminary numbers show there have been 5,063 drug overdose deaths reported for 2020 through July 21, 2021. In comparison, Pennsylvania saw 4,458 drug overdose deaths in 2019. Recent statistics reveal that 2020 ranks second to 2017, in which there were 5,403 overdose deaths, the most overdose deaths in a single year since the opioid epidemic began.

Pennsylvania Governor Wolf’s administration has made the fight against opioid use disorder a top priority by taking an all-hands-on deck approach to prevent the disease from happening, rescuing those suffering, and getting Pennsylvanians into treatment. Since Governor Wolf took office, he and his administration have worked with the General Assembly to take aggressive steps to combat opioids, making Pennsylvania a national leader in the fight. Governor Wolf first signed the opioid disaster declaration in January 2018 to help the commonwealth fight the deadly opioid and heroin epidemic and renewed the declaration 15 times, most recently on August 4, 2021.

As the commonwealth continues to fight this battle, It’s important to know where to get treatment and resources. Preventing overdose death and finding treatment options are the first steps to recovery.

The Risk of Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioids can be an important part of treatment for pain, but they also come with serious side effects and risks. It is important to consider the risks and talk to your health care provider about your options. Physical tolerance and dependence, addiction, and death from overdose are some of the serious risks associated with opioids. These risks are specifically associated with long-term use, but can happen anytime.

Finding Treatment

Call the Get Help Now hotline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
If you or someone you know are suffering from substance use disorder, help is available. Call the Get Help Now hotline for information about treatment resources. Your call is confidential. The hotline is staffed by trained professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is available in both English and Spanish.

Find County Treatment Programs

Local treatment programs are administered through county drug and alcohol offices called Single County Authorities. These programs can help with treatment funding, assessing the need for treatment, and making referrals to match treatment and/or service needs.

Find a Treatment Provider

You can reach out directly to a treatment provider for treatment. A treatment provider or facility provides treatment options for those suffering from substance use disorder.

Centers of Excellence

Centers of Excellence, created by the Wolf Administration in 2016, are designed to get more people into treatment and keep them engaged in their care. The centers coordinate care for people with Medicaid and, to date, more than 40,000 Pennsylvanians have engaged with the 60 centers to receive treatment. Treatment is team-based and “whole person” focused with the explicit goal of integrating behavioral health and primary care.

Get Naloxone: It Can Save a Life

Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid drug (prescription pain medication or heroin). When given during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and restores breathing within two to eight minutes. Naloxone is safe to use and has no potential for abuse.

Family members and friends can access naloxone by:

  • Obtaining a prescription from their family doctor
  • Using the standing order issued by Acting Physician General Denise A. Johnson. To use the standing order, print it and take it to the pharmacy or have the digital version on your phone.

What type of Naloxone is available?

Two of the most common ways naloxone is administered are intranasal (nasal spray) and auto-injector.

  • Intranasal has two pieces that are easily assembled: a prefilled medication tube and an atomization device, which is sold separately.
  • The auto-injector comes in a manufactured dosage form (similar to an EpiPen) and has a recorded message to talk you through giving the medication.

* Please note, not all pharmacies have both forms, and insurance coverage can vary depending on the type of medication being purchased and each individual insurance plan.

How do I administer Naloxone?

Help for Families

It’s not easy supporting a loved one with substance use disorder or dealing with the many challenges that come along with it. You are not alone. Resources are here to help you.

Support Resources

PA KinConnector

As a result of the opioid crisis, more grandparents and extended relatives are raising children in Pennsylvania. PA KinConnector was created to connect grandparents and other caregiver relatives to local, state, and federal resources, including physical and mental health services, health care coverage, school enrollment help, support groups, financial assistance, legal aid, and more.

Drug Take-Back Boxes

The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), in partnership with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Office of the Attorney General, the National Guard, and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, spearheaded an expanded prescription drug take-back box program placing hundreds of take-back boxes across all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties. Since it’s inception, more than 500 tons of prescription drugs have been collected and safely discarded by the program.