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State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill garnered unanimous approval in the Senate for two bills that would continue the fight against the state's opioid epidemic, solidifying her role in a larger package of legislation to address the crisis.

The first bill, codifying a 2015 statewide standing order that allows emergency service personnel to leave behind naloxone for the caretaker of someone who has overdosed, cleared the Senate on Wednesday and now sits in the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

"When you talk to the people on the front lines who are dealing with this, folks will overdose and refuse transport," the York Township Republican said. "Subsequently, what happens is that they are called back again. We need to get people saved."

More: Federal U.S. Attorney Freed discusses York's fight against opioids and gun violence

More: Free naloxone available at two sites in York City Thursday

York County saw 678 naloxone reversals between June 2014 and June 2018, according to the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. That places it third in the state, trailing only Delaware (1,162) and Allegheny (695) counties.

State Secretary of Health Rachel Levine signed the standing order back in 2015 to improve access to the live-saving drug that can reverse opioid overdoses.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf also has made the crisis a priority while in office. Earlier this year, he signed his sixth consecutive 90-day emergency declaration to bring attention to the epidemic, a move usually reserved for natural disasters.

Over the past week, the Senate has passed seven bills that include improving timely access to treatment, implementing a "recovery to work" program and increasing penalties for drug dealers who deliver a drug that causes "serious bodily harm."

Phillips-Hill's other bill in the package cleared the upper chamber Tuesday and now sits in the House Health Committee.

That bill would allow Medicaid-managed care organizations to have access to information in the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, giving those entities the ability to better detect abuse.

York County officials have used more local resources to address the crisis. In 2014, the York County Heroin Task Force — now known as the York Opioid Collaborative — was created to bolster local efforts.

"With more entities carrying naloxone, we have seen more reversals which could be related to a reduction in overdose deaths,” said executive director Brittany Shutz. “I do think we’re starting to see some progress with the initiatives and naloxone available to first responders.” 

There were 147 drug overdose deaths in the county in 2018, a majority of which were related to heroin or fentanyl, a drug that can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

That marks the first decrease in annual overdose deaths since at least 2015, when there were only 99 overdose deaths. Overdoses spiked between 2016 and 2017, mostly because of  the increasing presence of fentanyl in street drugs.

There have been 41 overdose deaths so far in 2019, according to the York County Coroner's Office. That figure puts the county on target to see another decrease.

However, it's "incredibly difficult to tell" how overdose trends will go as fentanyl continues to circulate through York County neighborhoods, Shutz said.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.         

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