HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) — Gov. Tom Wolf declared Pennsylvania's opioid addiction epidemic a public health emergency on Wednesday and signed an order for the 90-day disaster declaration.
This is about getting more help to fight addiction as seven other states have declared drug emergencies.
The situation in Pennsylvania is especially bad with the fourth-highest overdose rate in the country. It killed more than 5,200 people last year.
"I'm declaring this public health crisis a statewide disaster emergency," said Wolf.
Wolf signed a disaster declaration for Pennsylvania's heroin and opioid epidemic that will provide additional tools to help the state respond better.
It's a declaration usually reserved for natural disasters.
"This crisis has taken far too many lives. It has broken far too many families. It has decimated far too many communities and it has gone on far too long," said Wolf.
The declaration will:
- Establish an opioid command center in Harrisburg.
- Make it easier for addicts to get into treatment.
- Naloxone provided by medics can be left behind at overdose scenes.
- And it expands the state's prescription monitoring program.
"We cannot stand by, we cannot fail to act in the face of this crisis and we cannot allow more families to suffer the tragedies that they've suffered already," said Wolf. "The numbers again are staggering, the impact is devastating, we cannot allow it to continue."
"I've been in the field for 30 years and I've never seen an epidemic like this," said Tom Cain, president of Mirmont Treatment Center.
Cain says the emergency declaration should provide much needed assistance in getting more people into treatment.
"Whether they have the means or not to make sure that everybody that has an opiate dependence in the state of Pennsylvania can access treatments in a timely fashion and I think it will save lives," said Cain.
Mirmont has a Wall of Valor, a collection of badges for a program that's specially designed for emergency responders who have addiction issues and face traumatic events.
"Opioid epidemic reaches all areas of society," said Wolf.
Wolf's declaration is drawing widespread praise, including from Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and the Penn Medical Society, all agreeing on the need for more action to lower the rate of drug overdoses in Pennsylvania, which is more than twice the national average.
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