EDITORIAL: In opioid debate, Wolf acts like governor, Wagner acts like politician

York Dispatch
  • Gov. Tom Wolf has signed a 90-day disaster declaration in Pennsylvania to combat the opioid crisis.
  • State senator Scott Wagner claims that declaration could infringe on gun rights.
  • The Wolf administration responded that Wagner's claim is "flat-out wrong."

The Pennsylvania opioid crisis is a public health emergency.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf shows the document he signed declaring a state of emergency in the state's fight against heroin and opioid addiction during a news conference at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. In the background are Acting Secretary of Health and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine, left, and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Richard D. Flinn Jr. Wolf signed an order for the 90-day disaster declaration, widening access to the state's prescription drug monitoring program and making it easier for medical professionals to get people into drug treatment more quickly. (Blaine T. Shahan/LNP via AP)

Our citizens, especially our young people, are dying at a frightening rate.

Our elected officials must realize that it’s time to stop the politicking and start governing.

Gov. Tom Wolf appears to understand that.

Wanna-be governor Scott Wagner … well, not so much.

Wolf, in case you missed it, signed a 90-day disaster declaration on Wednesday, Jan. 10, in response to the state’s opioid addiction epidemic.

Pennsylvania issues disaster declaration over opioid crisis

A command center has been ordered to treat the crisis like it would a natural disaster, temporarily lifting regulations that may hamper response efforts.

The declaration will widen access to the state prescription drug monitoring program and make it easier for medical professionals to get people into drug treatment more quickly.

It will also allow emergency responders to leave behind the overdose antidote naloxone when responding to a call for help and the patient declines transportation to the hospital.

Those efforts were made in response to a crisis that claimed more than 4,600 Pennsylvania lives to fatal overdoses in 2016. That’s an increase of more than a third from the previous year and more than twice the national average. Preliminary data indicates the number of overdose deaths rose again last year.

York County is not immune from this scourge. There were 115 confirmed heroin/fentanyl deaths in 2017, with another 28 suspected, according to coroner Pam Gay. That's up from 76 such deaths in 2016, she said.

Wolf admitted that the disaster declaration is not a “silver bullet” that will magically eliminate the problem. However, it does seem like a good start — a common-sense, reasonable measure that may help slow a state-wide calamity.

You would think that Wolf’s Republican opponents, including Wagner, who have been hammering him for his lack of leadership on the issue, would welcome his action.

You would be wrong.

Wagner's response: The day after Wolf issued his disaster declaration, Wagner (R-Spring Garden Township) issued a news release blasting the sitting governor because he claims the declaration would “infringe on the (gun) rights of Pennsylvanians who could generally carry a firearm in public without a license.”

Wagner’s move apparently came after attorney and blogger Joshua Price described the declaration as “seemingly triggering the firearm prohibitions” under state law when emergencies are declared.

“While I earlier commended Governor Wolf for coming to the table to provide long-overdue leadership on the opioid epidemic, further review of his statewide disaster emergency declaration has made it clear that he took the wrong approach,” Wagner said in the release. “There is no reason why addressing this crisis should come at the expense of our Second Amendment rights." He went on to call the declaration sloppy and to accuse the Wolf administration of incompetence. 

Governor Wolf's Opioid Disaster Declaration Infringes On Gun Rights - Scott Wagner for Governor

Not surprisingly, the Wolf administration disagreed — vehemently.

Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott released a statement that the implication “to score cheap political points around the greatest public health crisis in our lifetimes is flat-out wrong.”

We could not agree more. It was a blatant political ploy — nothing more.

Wagner didn’t even try to disguise that fact. The news release came with letterhead from his gubernatorial campaign office, not from his state senatorial office.

No one will lose any gun rights under this declaration. Has anyone ever lost any gun rights when a snow or flood emergency has been declared?

Of course not.

It’s just a misguided attempt to politicize an issue that should have bipartisan cooperation.

It’s just another salvo in a gubernatorial campaign that promises to be just plain nasty.

Meanwhile, every day, Pennsylvanians continue to die from opioid overdoses.

It's a sad commentary on our political environment.