Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf recently took several steps to combat the rising rates of addiction and fatal overdoses sweeping across the state. Because he made a disaster declaration, Wolf is allowed to circumvent legislative approval in order to provide emergent recovery efforts. Considering that a total of 4,362 Pennsylvania residents died from drug overdoses in 2016 alone and numbers from last year are not yet known, making this issue a priority is a critical step to better ensure public health and safety.
Governor Wolf decided it was necessary to make a disaster declaration because Pennsylvania’s overdose rates are two times higher than other states across the nation. Various state agencies will now be acting together to create a realistic picture of heroin and opioid use across Pennsylvania, both by monitoring prescription drug databases and requiring hospitals to report nonfatal overdoses as well as the number of infants who are born drug-addicted.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioids are part of a drug class that also includes heroin, fentanyl and other painkillers. The institute reports that “regular use – even as prescribed by a doctor – can lead to dependence, and when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths”. This is part of the reason why opioids are so dangerous: even when a person uses them as prescribed, he or she is at risk for becoming addicted. Because opioids are not only highly physically addictive but also carry the ability to create feelings of euphoria and other seemingly positive side effects, they carry a high risk for dependence.
As part of Wolf’s campaign to decrease opioid and heroin use, pharmacies can have more naloxone stocked – also known as “Narcan” – than ever before. Naloxone is a medication that blocks the effects of opioids, particularly in the case of an overdose. Wolf is also allowing first responders to leave samples of the lifesaving drug with family members and friends of loved ones with addiction problems. When a drug overdose happens time is of the essence, so making sure that as many people as possible have naloxone available is a step that will save many lives.
Governor Wolf has also made it easier for hospitals to offer drug treatment programs and no longer requires that addicts receive a doctor’s approval before becoming eligible for drug treatment services. Previous state law also mandated that homeless addicts have duplicate birth certificates in order to pursue treatment; Wolf’s new declaration has overturned this requirement. Removing unnecessary obstacles like these will help a greater number of individuals to access safe and effective care.
But that’s not all. PA Attorney General John Shapiro recently joined an investigative effort that will examine nationally-made claims of pharmaceutical companies intentionally marketing opioids as less harmful than they really are. Altogether, the state of Pennsylvania is working to make some major impacts against the rising addiction rates as well as to chip away at the powerful hold that opioids often have.
When someone overdoses on opioids, they’re in danger for deadly medical complications. Some common signs of a drug overdose include:
If you know someone who is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should call 9-1-1 right away. Some of the most effective ways to treat an overdose are by responding quickly, performing rescue breathing and administering Narcan. The faster someone is correctly diagnosed and treated, the more likely they are to have a positive medical outcome.
It’s important to remember that anyone can become addicted to opioids (and other drugs). Lots of individuals who were injured on the job, in a car accident or even because they slipped and fell may end up requiring some sort of narcotic for their treatment and pain management. Although most people may assume that anything prescribed by a doctor is safe, a person can become addicted quickly. One of the goals of governor Wolf’s campaign is to diminish the stigma that often surrounds drug addiction – both to make treatment easier to get as well as to let people know that they aren’t alone and that help is always out there.
Everyone can do his or her part to help fight drug addiction. Responsibly disposing of expired medications or ones that are no longer being used is one easy way to make a difference that counts. To find out where you can safely dispose of unused or expired medications, please visit here.
For individuals who want to learn more about how to use naloxone – “Narcan” – and where it’s available, please visit here.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the most practical ways to decrease the number of individuals who are at risk for drug addiction and overdose is to increase awareness and education efforts, improve prescription rates, reduce exposure to opioids, prevent misuse and to treat individuals with substance abuse disorder. Governor Wolf’s campaign to tackle the opioid epidemic throughout Pennsylvania employs every single one of these methods, so PA residents should remain hopeful.
If you believe you were a victim of medical malpractice involving opioids, please contact the Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.