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Opioid treatment bills in hearing

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    This file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont. Less than three months after President Donald Trump declared the U.S. opioid crisis a public health emergency in October, the nation’s governors are calling on his administration and Congress to provide more money and coordination for the fight against the drugs. AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File

Published March 13. 2019 11:49AM


Two pieces of legislation aimed at helping the men and women in opioid addiction treatment and recovery were in the spotlight Tuesday morning during a hearing in front of the state House Human Services Committee.

The bills, sponsored by state Rep. Doyle Heffley of Carbon County, would create a bed registry and a warm hand-off for addiction treatment.

“The opioid crisis affects every county and every part of the state, whether you’re rural or urban,” Heffley said. “This is something we need to continue to address and the hearing today is another step in that direction.”

Lehigh County’s Blue Guardian program served as the inspiration for the warm hand-off legislation.

Julia Kocis, Lehigh County Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center director, and Lehigh County Drug and Alcohol Administrator Layne Turner outlined the program, which offers home support visits 48 to 72 hours after an overdose.

“Under 30 percent of individuals who enter an emergency room for substance abuse will go directly into a treatment program,” Turner said. “Most return home after the overdose and that can have deadly consequences.”


Following the implementation of the Blue Guardian program in March 2018, face-to-face encounters at home in the days immediately following the overdose helped convince individuals to enter treatment over 60 percent of the time.

Blue Guardian was implemented using data obtained after officers of local police departments administer naloxone, the medication that reverses an opioid overdose.

“All of our officers in Lehigh County have access to enter who administered the naloxone, where the overdose occurred, which hospital the patient was taken to and where that patient resides so we can make that home visit if they do choose to return home from the hospital,” Kocis said.

Under Heffley’s legislation, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs would work with the Department of Health to establish procedures for placing overdose survivors in a detoxification facility. In addition, an Overdose Recovery Task Force would be created to develop “overdose stabilization and firm handoff centers” across Pennsylvania, and a grant program to fund them.

The legislation was introduced at the tail end of last year’s session and was reintroduced this year.

“Since last fall, there has been a great deal of positive feedback on the legislation and comments from stakeholders were used to improve this year’s bill,” Heffley said in his memo to fellow legislators. “The commonwealth began to combat the crisis by authorizing the use of naloxone for first responders to bring people back from the brink of death. The warm hand-off is the critical next step to restore these individuals to lasting health and safety.”

Heffley said the bill number, 424, was inspired by Gabby Green, the daughter of one of his staffers, who passed away April 24, 2018 after an overdose.

“We have needed this legislation for several years,” Heffley said. “We could save many lives if we adopt this.”

Dr. Charles Barbera, an emergency room physician at Reading Hospital, said a warm hand-off program can be highly successful, but one of the keys is making sure a recovery specialist is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

He used the example of a 25-year-old mother of two who came into the emergency room after an overdose and was given a referral for a treatment appointment the following morning.

“Hours later she came back in after another overdose and died,” he said. “Tomorrow is too late. A lot of times the only shot you have in getting someone into treatment is when they are in the emergency room.”

Barbera also urged legislators not to let the payment issue hang things up on the front end.

“Worry about the payer on the back end,” he said. “Battling over pre-authorizations or that type of thing is a death sentence in many cases. This committee can be a powerful player, but you need to treat this like the emergency it is.”


The other bill discussed Tuesday would provide for a detoxification and addiction treatment bed registry.

The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs would develop and administer an internet-based detoxification and addiction treatment bed registry to collect, aggregate and display information about available beds in licensed detoxification and rehabilitation facilities for the treatment of individuals in need of inpatient detoxification or addiction treatment.

The registry would contain information for facilities and licensed providers; information regarding the number of beds available at a facility; and provide a search function to identify available beds that are appropriate for the treatment of a substance abuse emergency.

“It’s great to have a registry, but we don’t have enough beds immediately available when a patient decides they want help,” said Deb Beck, of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania.”

State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo of Bucks County, who chairs the House Human Services Committee, concurred, saying his office takes countless calls from people looking to get into treatment, but beds are hard to come by.

“I’m a firm believer that people who want to get into treatment should have options of what type of treatment they want to get into,” he said. “I believe we should look into state office buildings that are shutdown around the state and see if we could open them up and get treatment people to go in there and run those buildings.

“You can’t turn away someone who needs treatment. You need a place to put them.”



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