Legislature must extend opioid disaster declaration by Aug. 26

State Reps. Isaacson and Hohenstein ask House speaker to reconvene session

HARRISBURG, Aug. 3 – As the opioid addiction crisis rages on and access to treatment and monitoring programs hangs in the balance, two Philadelphia area state lawmakers are urging House Republican leaders to end the summer recess now so lawmakers can vote to extend the governor’s statewide opioid disaster declaration.

On Jan. 10, 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order declaring a statewide disaster emergency due to the opioid epidemic and has continued to renew it since. Wolf said he intends to renew this declaration again on Aug. 5, but recent changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution will cause the emergency order to expire 30 days from that date unless the Pennsylvania General Assembly votes to extend it. As such, the renewal would expire on Aug. 26. The House is not scheduled to return to voting session until Sept. 27.

State Reps. Mary Isaacson and Joe Hohenstein, both D-Phila., on Monday sent a letter to House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, urging him to bring lawmakers back to session before that Aug. 26 expiration so they can vote to extend the emergency declaration.  

“The opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities throughout our state. Last year, over 5,000 individuals died in Pennsylvania from overdose -- a 16% increase from 2019,” the lawmakers wrote to Cutler. “Each of those numbers represents a life cut short. Each represents families who will never be whole again.”

Isaacson and Hohenstein said the people they represent are included in the areas of Philadelphia hardest hit by the opioid crisis and substance use disorder. They said 2020 is on track to be the worst year on record in Philadelphia for deaths from drug poisonings, due in large part to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders. Fatal overdoses were up 11% through three quarters, the latest information available, from just over 850 lives lost in 2019 to about 950 last year.

Despite those numbers, the lawmakers said they believe the opioid emergency declaration has produced positive results for the state and many people seeking treatment. Ending the declaration would leave too much to chance.

“The opioid emergency declaration has widened access to the prescription drug monitoring program, allowed agencies to share data, and made it easier for individuals to receive treatment,” the letter continued. “We have seen the positive effects and changed lives across our districts. We have heard personal testimony that these programs work. It has been vital in our efforts to combat the scourge of opioid addiction. We, as elected representatives, need to do our part in ensuring this emergency declaration does not end prematurely,” their letter concluded.

Isaacson and Hohenstein’s communication to Cutler can be found at this link.