Pennsylvania human services chief presses for funding to confront opioid addiction

    Gathered Monday at the Wedge Recovery Center in Philadelphia

    Gathered Monday at the Wedge Recovery Center in Philadelphia

    Passing a budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year is essential — and as quickly as possible — to address opioid addiction in Pennsylvania, said Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas.

    Chris Sweeney, executive director of Philadelphia’s Wedge Recovery Center, said 2,488 Pennsylvanians died of drug overdose in 2014, making addiction the No. 2 killer of those under 70 in the state.

    Joining Sweeney and Dallas at the center Monday, state Reps. Jordan Harris and Brian Sims, both Philadelphia Democrats, encouraged Pennsylvanians to contact their legislators about passing Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget.

    The proposed budget would grant DHS about $34 million, Dallas said, which would also “draw down some additional federal money.”  Without that funding, the department could be left scrambling to treat the 11,250 new state residents who have substance abuse disorders.

    “I’ll have to cut a whole bunch of things that are going to do a lot of damage to a lot of people if we don’t get this budget under control,” Dallas said. “And the worst part is, it’s just going to cost us more in the long run.”

    Those long-term costs include emergency room overdose treatments or addiction treatment in prisons, Dallas said, that cost the state more when there aren’t enough treatment options for drug users to turn to before they overdose or are arrested. It’s important to think about treating the person, not the disorder, he added.

    Harris said he’s worked on legislation that supports reintegration of recovering addicts in the workforce, in an effort to offer comprehensive care to those in need.

    “Many of our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins have issues with substance abuse,” Harris said.

    DHS will debut a new treatment center program in 2016, opening 20 facilities Dallas called “health homes” for pregnant women seeking addiction treatment. Wolf’s budget would allow this to expand, he said. It’s critical, the politicians agreed, to enact programs that will combat the ever-growing health crisis this year.

    If Wolf’s budget does not pass, Dallas said, DHS could lose as much as $600 million in funding. Should that happen, Dallas said he will have to cut discretionary programs, including drug treatment.

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