Pennsylvania To Expand Opioid Treatment by 2017

By Dorri Olds 09/06/16

Slated to open by 2017, the treatment coordination centers will provide comprehensive care management and medication-assisted treatment. 

Pennsylvania To Open 25 More Opioid Treatment Centers, Governor Announces
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf Photo YouTube

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced last week that 25 new Centers of Excellence (COE) will open by January 1, 2017—in addition to the state’s already existing 20 COE locations. “This isn’t just a medical epidemic," Wolf said about the heroin crisis in August. "It’s a plague." 

Philadelphia remains a magnetic draw for heroin addicts because the drugs smuggled in from the Sinaloa Cartel are highly potent.

“We have a big problem here in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said at a recent press conference. “It’s an opioid problem. There are too many people that died from drug overdose in Pennsylvania.” He quoted statistics. In 2014, 2,500 people died in Pennsylvania from ODs. In 2015, the number rose to "I think 3,500," the governor said. “That’s almost 10 every day,” with predictions that 2016 will be worse. 

“With these additional locations, my administration is continuing its commitment to expanding high-quality treatment across Pennsylvania,” said Wolf, announcing the new Centers of Excellence. “While the budget allows us to expand treatment for individuals suffering from addiction, we can and should do more to address this matter that is plaguing all of our communities.”

The new COEs will coordinate treatment for those suffering opioid use disorder—that includes anyone who may have co-occurring behavioral and physical health conditions—who need help navigating the health care system in order to stick with treatment and get well. The approach is to treat the whole person, with the goal of helping heroin addicts, or those abusing opioid medications, to turn their lives around and become productive members of society.

“The Centers for Excellence will provide vital, potentially life-saving coordination of care for Pennsylvanians struggling with the disease of addiction,” said Secretary of the Department of Human Services, Ted Dallas. “Rather than just treating a person’s addiction, DHS will treat the entire patient through team-based treatment, with the explicit goal of integrating behavioral health and primary care and, when necessary, evidence-based medication assisted treatment. As our strategy involves both behavioral therapy and FDA-approved medication that individuals take to help curb cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms, it can improve the odds of recovery.”

The governor continues to fight for solutions. The state's 2016–2017 budget includes $10 million in behavioral health funding and $5 million in medical assistance funding. According to the governor's office, “this will allow [the Department of Human Services] to draw down $5.4 million in federal funding for an overall total of $20.4 million.”

Wolf is not the only Pennsylvania official addressing the problem. Blossburg Mayor Shane Nickerson, a former addict in recovery for the past 25 years, is also passionate about solving the opioid crisis. “Addiction is a disease and we’ve got to do something different,” he said in July.

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.