Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs takes shape in Pa.

    A former chief of the legislation unit at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office will head Pennsylvania’s newest cabinet-level agency.

    Gary Tennis will take charge of the new department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, which aims to streamline Pennsylvania’s drug and alcohol treatment and prevention efforts.

    The new department was authorized by legislation enacted in 2010, but Gov. Tom Corbett delayed forming the office until this week, citing budget constraints.

    The agency will coordinate programs now managed by the departments of Health, Public Welfare, and other bureaus.

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    “If somebody needs drug and alcohol addiction treatment services, I would like them to be able to get it, and get as much treatment as they need to get better,” acting secretary Tennis said. “I think there’s often a pressure to under-treat, but that’s unwise both from a financial perspective and a humane perspective.”

    While in the district attorney’s legislative office, Tennis pushed for a state program that allows those with addictions to seek treatment rather than be incarcerated.

    George Vogel, head of the Council on Chemical Abuse, currently works with several different state offices to secure funding for addiction services in Berks County. He has been pushing for more streamlined operations for years.

    “What this one department will do is hopefully take these several different funding streams and bring them together into one single funding stream and in doing so become more accountable to the people of Pennsylvania,” Vogel said, adding he hoped the department would give more voice to addiction services advocates.

    Tennis does not yet know how many employees his agency will have, or its operating budget.

    His appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate.

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