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Past budget cuts prompt concerns for future of opioid programs

Katherine Ranzenberger

With the 2016-17 budget proposal on the table, some are worried spending cuts will affect the fight against opioid abuse in Pennsylvania.

In this file photo, a nasal administered dose of Narcan, a heroin overdose antidote, is seen in a school nurse's office. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis said Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget has the resources to fight the overdose death epidemic, but without those investments, the program might suffer.

“Although we don’t know what possible budget cuts might look like, we do know that any cuts to funding for drug and alcohol programs — which until last year have always been among the first to be cut — will only exacerbate the current opioid epidemic,” Tennis said in a press release.

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“In fact, years of inadequate funding of drug and alcohol programs have contributed to the epidemic we face today," he stated. "If drug and alcohol funds are cut because we can’t balance a budget with new revenues, we will make an already tragic time in our history even worse.”

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According to the press release, the Independent Fiscal Office released its five-year projections of state revenues for 2016-17 through 2020-21 in January. The projections warned the commonwealth could face a nearly $1.9 billion structural deficit for 2016-17 if there are not corrective actions taken.

“The number one priority ... is funding treatment for patients,” Tennis said. “Without adequate funding, not only is that effort hampered, but any efforts to expand access and availability will be hamstrung.”

In 2014, nearly 2,500 Pennsylvanians died of drug overdoses, the press release reads. That number is expected to increase for 2015. About one in four families in Pennsylvania is affected by addiction.

York County has been hit hard the past two years by heroin-related deaths. York had seen 56 confirmed heroin-related deaths in 2015, with eight more pending toxicology results before they officially can be ruled as such. If the eight do come back as heroin-related overdoses — which suspected ones normally do — the total of 64 will be two higher than 2014’s 62, according to York County Coroner Pam Gay.

To help cope with the increased demand for help, the county is considering expanding its rehabilitation facility, which it operates with White Deer Run, in Springettsbury Township. One of the options  calls for as many as 65 addition beds.

In the U.S., 44 people die from an overdose of heroin or prescription opioids every day, according to the 2016-17 Pennsylvania Executive Budget-in-Brief. Heroin and opioid addiction is an epidemic across Pennsylvania and the U.S.

“This year the administration has taken meaningful steps to address this crisis head on, including the issuance of a statewide standing order for naloxone,” the budget-in-brief reads. “This medication, that can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid drug, is now available to families and friends of those suffering from the disease of addiction.”

The proposed budget provides more than $34 million to treat more than 11,250 new individuals, according to the budget-in-brief. However, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs doesn’t know where the revenue will come from.

“With funding for human services programs at risk without new revenues in this budget, the well-being of Pennsylvanians affect by the worst ever overdose death epidemic could be at risk,” the press release reads. “Without new investments and revenue, many human services organizations, including many of the state’s county-level drug and alcohol commissions, could continue to struggle to survive.”