HARRISBURG – On the heels of the governor’s disaster emergency declaration to fight the ongoing opioid crisis in Pennsylvania, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) has sent the administration a series of practical, critical recommendations to combat the epidemic. 

 “I applaud the governor for taking this innovative approach to fighting this crisis and putting every tool at his disposal to save lives,” said DiGirolamo, chairman of the House Human Services Committee. “More than 4,600 people lost their lives in 2016 to this overwhelming overdose crisis, a 37 percent increase from 2015. Sadly, that number is expected to rise, continuing to devastate families and communities throughout Pennsylvania.”

Namely, DiGirolamo is urging the administration to direct that empty buildings owned by the Commonwealth be put to use for badly needed, long-term residential addiction treatment. He is suggesting to open three centers in different parts of the state.

“One of the biggest challenges in fighting this battle is the lack of treatment beds,” he explained. “The addiction cycle perpetuates itself when treatment is unavailable. By repurposing these empty buildings, we can begin to get people the help they desperately need.”

Other recommendations DiGirolamo has sent to the administration are listed below: 

• Staff the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs fully and vigorously support its cross-departmental statutory base. 

 • Publicly support and push for the opiate litigation in Pennsylvania to assure that the companies involved are held accountable for their actions, which have resulted in so many unnecessary, tragic deaths. 

 • Direct the Insurance Department to review health insurance plans to ensure that the coverage for addiction treatment is comprehensive (as required by Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and Pennsylvania Act 106 of 1989) and that it is accessible to subscribers. The subscriber and/or employer have already paid for addiction treatment services in the health plans. However, few are able to access treatment and many end up seeking help through public funding.

 • Push vigorously for DiGirolamo’s House Bill 1378 to levy a 10 percent tax on revenue on the sales of opioids in Pennsylvania. Revenue would be designated to fund long-term residential addiction treatment, county purchase of Narcan, addiction counseling in county jails, reimburse costs to coroners and to support the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, among other expenses. 

 • Provide funding to local police to assist with enforcement activities with the opioid problem. 

 • Establish a funding pool of at least $10 million in the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs solely for use by county district attorneys and Drug Court judges to aid in placing offenders in long-term residential addiction treatment facilities.

“Funding is, of course, a major issue across the board, and the crisis has overwhelmed the drug and alcohol abuse prevention, education and addiction treatment infrastructure,” DiGirolamo noted. “Because of this, it is logical to expect the opioid manufacturers – which are expected to receive over $11 billion in opioid sales in one year – to foot the bill for the problems they have created through misleading marketing and other strategies.”

 DiGirolamo added, “So much more can and should be done to address the problem. I am pleased that the governor declared a state of emergency, and I am hopeful that we will all work in a bipartisan way so that we can truly make a difference to those who so desperately need our help.”