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Local director says governor's drug plan is a start

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    Jamie Drake

Published January 12. 2018 12:49PM

A local official praises Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency declaration to send resources to battle the opioid epidemic.

But Jamie Drake, executive director of the Carbon Monroe Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission, says more coordination is needed.

Wolf’s 13 initiative points were presented as a means to “enhance state response, increase access to treatment, and save lives” in the war on heroin and opioids. It is the first time in state history that an emergency declaration has been issued in an instance that is not weather-related.

The move has been largely commended for taking an aggressive action in the opioid emergency, but at this point, very little is certain as to the effectiveness of the approach.

Drake has dealt with the issues of heroin and opioid abuse and treatment in her capacity as executive director of the Carbon Monroe Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission for years, and she said that the emergency declaration could be a significant step in the right direction.

“I think that anything we can do at all levels to continue to raise awareness of the magnitude of this issue is important,” Drake said.

One of the larger elements of the declaration establishes an Opioid Unified Coordination Group, consisting of the heads of, or representatives from, the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Pennsylvania State Police and any other executive branch agency the governor designates.

This group will help consolidate information gathering and strategy development, allowing for a more well-rounded and comprehensive approach to the issue of heroin and opioid issues.

Without input from the ground forces, however, the group could be missing out on vital information.

“I think that the Command Center should coordinate meetings with local providers and single county authorities who really see what needs to be done, because they are dealing with it every day,” Drake said.

One of the initiatives revolves around access to naloxone, a medication used to treat narcotic overdose. Drake cites this point as one of the most significant to treatment providers on a local level.

“Enabling naloxone to be left behind by first responders with family members after an overdose (is the most effective element), but I think there should also be information on seeking treatment left for families as well,” she said. “Any and all elements that will speed up and expand access to treatment.”

As it stands, though, one of the biggest issues comes down to cash. Drake said that the often restrictive state funding often proves to be a roadblock to effective treatment, but in light of the declaration, some alterations could make for better results across the board.

“If I could change anything, it would be that monies allocated to us by the state government be able to be used on a more flexible basis,” she said. “Meaning, used for what the local needs are, because our needs are not the same as more urban counties.”

While results are speculation at this point, officials and providers from the state to the local level are hoping that the emergency declaration will be an effective first step. Simply put, it’s a start.

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