Wolf cites ‘remarkable’ bipartisan effort to pass bills aimed at heroin, painkiller addiction
Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday signed a package of bills he and others said mark a major step forward in the state's response to the escalating drug addiction epidemic that killed about 3,500 Pennsylvanians last year.
The bills are intended to cut into the supply and overprescribing of prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, which are highly addictive and often lead to addiction to heroin.
One of the bills will require doctors to check the state's prescription drug data base each time they prescribe an opioid painkiller to a patient. Previously, doctor were only required to check before the first prescription, but not again unless the doctor suspected a problem. A goal of the database is to make it impossible for patients to receive prescriptions from multiple doctors.
Another bill would bar emergency rooms from prescribing more than a 7-day supply of painkillers, and another would prevent doctors from prescribing more than 7 days' worth of painkillers to a minor.
Two other bills in the package would require medical school curriculum's to include lessons on safe prescribing of opioids, and increase the number of locations were people can drop off unused prescription drugs.
They were only the latest in the steps the state has taken to address the crisis of opioid addiction, which typically begins with addiction to a prescription painkiller and leads to addiction to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get.
The 2016-2017 state budget includes $15 million toward new drug treatment centers around the state that are expected to treat about 11,000 people during the first year. The state's $15 million expenditure allowed it to qualify for another $5.4 million in federal funds toward the centers.
The bills result from a agreement between Wolf, a Democrat, and House and Senate Republicans to come up with solutions to the crisis this fall.
Backed by dozens of lawmakers from both parties, Wolf said the opioid-related bills are a "remarkable" achievement, and offer proof that government can work when both parties work together on problems that effect everyone.
Still, Wolf said more needs to be done in response to the opioid crisis. He said the state must provide more funding toward treatment for addicts, require insurers to cover new abuse resistant painkillers, and give doctors "additional decision making tools" to enable them to collaborate with their patients to control pain in a way that doesn't come with such a high risk of addiction.
"We have a lot of work to do. This is a start," Wolf said.