Gov. Wolf discusses how to tackle heroin, opioid issues

Katherine Ranzenberger

Lawmakers and local officials call the opioid and heroin epidemic that's taken over Pennsylvania a "sobering topic."

Gov. Tom Wolf said it's a known issue, but how to treat it has always eluded lawmakers. Local officials joined the governor on Thursday for a roundtable discussion in York on different ways to combat the drug that took 65 people from their families in 2015 in York County. So far in 2016, there have been 10 confirmed overdose-related deaths.

"We do know the magnitude of this problem," Wolf said. "But we need to figure out how to treat it. It's also a medical problem."

Heroin and opioid overdoses took more lives in Pennsylvania than traffic accidents did in 2014, Wolf said. He said the stigma behind the disease stops some people from getting help.

Overdose: Tony Campisi, a York man who's a personal friend of the governor, came to the event at Martin Library to share his story with members of the heroin task force. He recently lost his nephew to a heroin overdose.

"He was close to his graduation from college," Campisi said. "He had a period of time when he was clean. He fell victim to that 'one more try' mentality."

His nephew came from a loving, middle-class home, Campisi said. It's an unexplainable situation, he added with tears in his eyes.

File photo of Gov. Tom Wolf.

"There is no silver bullet to any of this," Campisi said. "The dealer you put in jail will be replaced by another one. We need to have education. We need to have mechanisms to help these people."

Multi-pronged approach: York County District Attorney Tom Kearney said it would take a multi-pronged approach to take on the heroin and opioid crisis in the state.

Regulating recovery homes around York City and county is one proposed way to help addicts in the area, he said.

York City: Let us regulate recovery homes better

"We have over 80 recovery homes in York," Kearney said. "They're not regulated. There's no standard for treatment."

The number of beds available to addicts for rehab is also limited, he said. People have been turned away because there isn't enough room to help them.

"We need to ramp up treatment, too," Kearney said. "We are on the way here in York to adding a significant amount of beds, but the available monies can limit it."

A "warm hand-off" program should also be implemented, he said, referring to a program where police would take drug addicts directly to the hospital for medical treatment. This can help people get the help they need, even if they don't realize they need it. This is something that has been enacted with mental health issues, and Kearney said he believes it can help addicts, too.

"There are no consequences," he said. "We cannot do this alone. If people can't get the treatment they need after they are administered Narcan, that's a false promise of help."

In this file photo, state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, right, opens a roundtable discussion May 12, 2016, with Gov. Tom Wolf to discuss the heroin crisis.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is an overdose reversal drug. All 23 departments across York County started carrying naloxone in kits at the beginning of April 2015. In the first eight months, 99 people were saved with the use of naloxone, Kearney said.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.