Our Opinion: Opioid crisis in Pennsylvania requires action now – not after Election Day

September 20th, 2016 6:35 pm - updated: 11:06 am.

As an incentive to work quickly, state lawmakers in Harrisburg can focus during September and October on this number: 10.

That’s how many Pennsylvanians, on average, lose their lives each day as a result of opioid abuse.

Passing laws to help slow the alarming pace of fatalities from heroin and opioid overdoses – and to expand access to treatment for the addicted – should command the legislators’ attention during the few days they are likely to remain at work before Election Day.

The House and Senate each is scheduled to be in session for fewer than a dozen days before Nov. 8; more days, however, can be added to their respective calendars.

Gov. Tom Wolf last week sent a letter to the General Assembly asking its members to hold a joint session this fall, at which, much like the governor’s yearly budget address, he could simultaneously talk to members of both chambers about the drug crisis.

Voters would be wise to pay attention to how the governor’s request gets treated, and to which lawmakers share a sense of urgency in passing bills intended to prevent further suffering.

The Wolf administration deserves credit for its prior efforts to increase public access to naloxone, an antidote with the potential to revive overdose victims seemingly on the brink of death. More emergency responders now carry the life-saving drug, and schools stock it.

Yet much more remains to be done. State lawmakers, including Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston, have introduced bills that warrant consideration and, quite possibly, speedy passage. In certain instances, opioid-related legislation in Harrisburg has received the approval of one chamber, but not yet been brought up before the other.

At the same time, federal authorities are heightening calls for further action to curb opioid abuse, and officials in some communities have taken matters into their own hands.

President Barack Obama has proclaimed this “Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week,” calling attention to the widespread problem and proposing that Congress approve $1.1 billion in funding for related programs.

In Manchester, N.H., meanwhile, a fire chief has “opened the city’s fire stations to addicts seeking help with treatment, housing and other services,” USA Today reported earlier this month. “All I know is that we’re dealing with a problem on our streets and we’re operating independently without the state or feds,” the chief said.

In Luzerne County, a police chief is asking borough residents to attend the department’s Oct. 25 meeting to talk about drug abuse and recovery. Beyond the ongoing enforcement of drug laws, Larksville Police Chief John Edwards said, “we can provide a service that may help people put an end to their addiction.”

Against this backdrop, can the people of Pennsylvania count on their elected state lawmakers to provide more help?

If not now, when?

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