Governor declares opioid crisis 'disaster emergency,' waiving regulations

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Medics responding to overdose calls will be able to leave behind additional doses of naloxone, so drug users can prevent death if another overdose happens in the future. It will create a coordinated response within PEMA to allow agencies to take a more unified approach to the epidemic. Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest overdose death rate in the United States.

"It has decimated far too many communities and it has gone on for far too long", Wolf said at an event formally announcing the declaration at the State Capitol in Harrisburg.

Officials say, it allows the state to override a lot of existing regulations to address the crisis.

Wolf's move comes as he faces criticism from one of the Republican candidates vying for the nomination to challenge his re-election bid in November that the state hasn't provided the leadership, resources or attention that the crisis deserves.

Acting Drug and Alcohol Secretary Jennifer Smith says she'll consider making some of the changes permanent if they appear to be making a difference.

The source, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter before the governor's announcement, said Wolf has been encouraged by steps the Legislature has taken, such as the creation of prescription monitoring systems, and steps his own administration has taken like increasing the availability of the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone to first responders.

Levine said the declaration allows the health department to make overdoses and cases where babies are born in withdrawal reportable to the state when people survive. It will provide broader access to the prescription drug monitoring program, which is meant to deter people from becoming addicted to prescribed opioid pain relievers by giving doctors and pharmacists access to each patient's total prescription history.

Wolf says by law, the emergency declaration lasts 90 days. After that, if needed he could seek to extend it with another proclamation, Wolf said.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's office put out a statement stressing efforts taken by Congress and the president to tackle the problem.

"While we have made progress in combating the heroin and opioid abuse crisis and drastically expanded Pennsylvania's response, we are still losing far too many Pennsylvanians", Wolf said in a news release.

Pennsylvania would become at least the eighth state to declare some sort of emergency as a result of the opioid epidemic, joining Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia.

The Pennsylvania physician general will reclassify fentanyl and similar drugs as Schedule 1 narcotics to limit access and open drug dealers to steep criminal penalties.

Pennsylvania suffered more than 4,600 fatal overdoses in 2016.