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Hearing Focuses on Opioid Crisis, Concerning Rise in Fentanyl across Pa.

April 12, 2022

Pennsylvania is at a critical point to address the opioid crisis and the growing share of fentanyl overdoses reported throughout the state, a panel of experts testified this morning.

Today, the state House Health Committee hosted a public hearing on opioids in the commonwealth. The event provided a forum for behavioral health clinicians, advocates, state officials, and others to outline the challenges ahead.

Reducing obstacles to medically assisted treatment is an important area of focus as the state grapples with the opioid crisis and concerning reports of fentanyl overdoses, the panelists said.

“We need a combination of low-barrier treatment access at any point that a patient accesses health care,” said Dr. Jeanmarie Perrone, director, Penn Medicine Center for Addiction Policy and Medicine. This includes improving access at emergency departments, through telehealth, low-barrier community centers, incarceration centers, and other settings.

Among the topics discussed today:

  • Prescribing opioids:  Since the implementation of the state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), there has been a 38 percent reduction in opioid dispensations, as well as a significant reduction in patients receiving prescriptions from multiple providers. In addition to the PDMP, the state must continue to identify best practices in pain management care
  • Concerning rise in fentanyl:  75 percent of the overdose deaths in Pennsylvania during 2020 involved fentanyl or related products, state officials said
  • Tools in the toolbox:  Harm-reduction strategies, such as syringe services programs and fentanyl test strips, have the potential to save lives
  • Telehealth as a bridge:  Advances in telehealth at the outset of the pandemic have allowed for easier access to same-day treatment and addressed provider shortages across the state
  • Peer recovery specialists:  People in recovery can serve a valuable role for others, building alliances with patients and helping them navigate a complex treatment system

Fentanyl is undetectable through sight, taste, or smell, and its rise in the illegal drug supply is a significant public health concern, said Jennifer Smith, secretary of drug and alcohol programs.

“That number (of fentanyl overdoses) is alarming and by contrast has been consistently rising since 2017,” she said.

Additionally, Amy Tolliver, executive director, West Virginia Perinatal Partnership, outlined the state’s steps to address screening and outcomes in maternal and perinatal health, with a goal of improving care for pregnant and postpartum women with substance use disorders.

HAP and Pennsylvania’s hospital community are dedicated to addressing Pennsylvania’s opioid crisis and improving pathways to care.  HAP’s behavioral health agenda includes policies to expand access to care so that Pennsylvanians can obtain the services that best fit their needs.

Learn more about our behavioral health priorities.

A replay of today’s hearing is available online. For more information about HAP’s behavioral health initiatives, contact Jennifer Jordanvice president, regulatory advocacy.