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Pennsylvania Governor, Law Enforcement, and Hospitals Advance Efforts to Reduce Overdose Deaths

Investments will expand access to medications in hospitals and prisons, increase availability of naloxone in communities and train sheriffs on harm reduction strategies.

(Pennsylvania, USA) – Today, Vital Strategies announced the first projects in a $10 million dollar commitment to Pennsylvania to strengthen the state’s ability to respond to the crisis of overdose deaths. Nationally, overdose has become the leading killer of adults between the ages of 18 and 50, taking more than 70,000 lives in 2017. Pennsylvania is among the top five states with the highest number of fatal overdoses in the country. This effort is a part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ $50 million investment to address the national opioid crisis.

“Pennsylvania is committed to fighting this epidemic from all sides with a clear understanding that reduced overdose deaths means more people into recovery,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “Our hospitals, law enforcement and every community are playing a role, and, working together, we can help people to engage with evidence-based services and support, to stabilize and lead fruitful and healthy lives.”

Funding and technical assistance will go to Pennsylvania hospitals, law enforcement, harm reduction efforts and high-burdened communities through the global public health organization Vital Strategies. This first round of projects will:

  • Partner with 100+ hospitals across Pennsylvania to include access to buprenorphine and methadone treatment in emergency departments and in-patient settings;
  • Train sheriffs using a specially developed curriculum, so that they become harm reduction partners;
  • Expand access to methadone and buprenorphine in state prisons and jails; and
  • Create media campaigns to reduce stigma and increase access to medications and services.

In November 2018, Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, World Health Organization Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and former New York City mayor, announced a $50 million investment to address the country’s opioid overdose crisis. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Vital Strategies, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Johns Hopkins University—is helping up to 10 states over the next three years implement solutions to strengthen prevention and treatment efforts that offer the most potential to address the root causes of opioid addiction and save lives.

“The president declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency almost two years ago but those words were not backed up by urgent action,” said Michael Bloomberg. “Families continue to lose loved ones, communities are suffering, and people aren’t getting the help they need. Fortunately, states are leading where Washington isn’t. These new efforts will put Pennsylvania at the forefront of the fight against opioid deaths and provide a model that can spread around the country and save many more lives.”

Vital Strategies, with support from other partners, is leading the implementation of the initiative in Pennsylvania, the first state of focus for the initiative, and in Michigan, which recently joined as the second state. 

“The overdose epidemic in the United States has devastated families and communities in Pennsylvania and beyond, and the only way to address it is with proven public health interventions,” said José Luis Castro, President and CEO of Vital Strategies. “We applaud our partners—the elected officials and health and community leaders who are taking the lead to turn the tide on the overdose crisis. We’re determined to use our expertise, relationships and resources to energize a public health approach to confronting this epidemic.”

Today marks the official launch of the first projects in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania will be a national model for addressing the overdose crisis,” said Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies. “The state, under Governor Wolf’s leadership, is the first in our initiative to bring together law enforcement, state agencies, community leaders, hospitals, prisons and harm reduction organizations in such a coordinated way. The overdose crisis calls for a comprehensive response, and I know that by working together we can make rapid progress to reduce overdose deaths.” 

Below are several of the initial projects being launched in Pennsylvania.

Hospital Opioid Learning Action Network

Hospitals and emergency departments are at the frontlines of the overdose crisis. Vital Strategies is partnering with The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) and the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians (PACEP) to work with hospitals across Pennsylvania to foster the adoption and standardization of best practices, including medication-assisted therapy, for patients with opioid use disorder across health care settings. Through a newly established Opioid Learning Action Network (LAN), HAP will convene the hospital community to work collectively to identify best practices, develop innovative strategies of care, share lessons learned, and hone expertise to support patients with opioid use disorder. The HAP LAN seeks to engage more than 100 participants across Pennsylvania’s diverse hospital landscape to harness their collective knowledge.

“Pennsylvania’s hospital staff know all too well the tragic realities and consequences of the opioid crisis, and they see the impacts of it every day in the communities they serve,” said Andy Carter, president and CEO of The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP). “Through HAP’s Opioid LAN, the hospital community has a chance to share best practices and lessons learned, and work with each other to find ways to prevent overdoses and help patients receive the evidence-based treatment they need to recover. We are grateful for the trust that Bloomberg Philanthropies has placed in our hospital community and for the ability to partner with Vital Strategies provide a platform for hospitals to come together to identify and scale the solutions necessary to end this crisis.”

“Emergency physicians are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania, treating all affected patients and working to connect them to effective rehabilitation resources,” said Arvind Venkat, MD, FACEP of McCandless, PA, President, PACEP. “The Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians (PACEP) is enthusiastic in contributing its expertise to this important effort to improve care.”

Sheriff Education and Mobilization for Overdose Prevention

Vital Strategies is teaming up with Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association (PSA) and the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition (PAHRC) to work with law enforcement to become harm reduction partners. This project will support trainings for law enforcement across the state. The trainings will provide guidance and education on substance use disorders and harm reduction strategies to reduce overdose deaths and facilitate linkages to treatment. The Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association 97th Annual Conference on July 11 in Erie will feature a panel on effective, public health and safety approaches towards overdose and the importance of harm reduction in law enforcement interventions. Journalists interested in attending should contact Tony Newman at 646-335-5384.

“Many of us in law enforcement face this battle daily, and we’ve witnessed the heartbreak and pain of addiction,” said incoming President of the Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association, Tim Chamberlain of Columbia County.  “We, in law enforcement, stand ready to assist and partner with the treatment community in Pennsylvania in whatever ways are necessary to change the overwhelming overdose statistics in our state.”

“Our bottom line is saving lives,” said Devin Reaves of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition. “We are thrilled to be leading trainings with law enforcement to ensure the health, well-being and safety of our communities is prioritized.”

Opioid Agonist Treatment in Correctional Facilities

There are 25 state prisons in Pennsylvania. Currently the state is offering Vivitrol, a medication for treating people with opioid use disorder, to people behind bars. The Department of Corrections (DOC) is interested in expanding and offering methadone and buprenorphine to those in jails and prisons. Vital Strategies will assist and provide support to the DOC in their implementation of this treatment as the standard care in all state facilities.

In addition to prison facilities, there are over 60 county jail facilities across the Commonwealth that need to build up services for people struggling with addiction. Working with our partners at the Pennsylvania Sheriff’s Association and other criminal justice stakeholders, we will assess treatment delivery and capacity within the local county jails across the state and identify opportunities for expanding the delivery of opioid agonist treatment and naloxone as a standard of care within corrections.

Engaging and Mobilizing Communities in Address Overdose

Vital Strategies will create media campaigns to improve public education, engagement, access to resources and reduce stigma. These campaigns will mobilize communities across geographies and demographics, including people who use drugs and people directly impacted by drug use and overdose.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our programs reach into 73 countries and help prevent death and illness from noncommunicable disease, reduce harm caused by environmental factors, and support cities as engines for public health. We consult with governments on issues including restricting junk food marketing to kids, promoting smoke-free laws, improving indoor and outdoor air quality, and strengthening road safety. These are protections that can add up to millions of lives saved. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change.

To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

Media Contacts:

Tony Newman: +1-646-335-5384, tnewman@vitalstrategies.org

Christina Honeysett: +1.914.424.3356, choneysett@vitalstrategies.org