Small victory in fight against opioid abuse

York Dispatch editorial board

Thumbs up for the heartening news that hospitalizations for opioid overdoses fell to a six-year low statewide in 2021.

A total of 2,429 hospitalizations were recorded last year across Pennsylvania, according to data gathered by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council. That’s a 27% decrease from the more than 3,300 hospitalizations logged in 2016.

The news was even better in York County, where overdose hospitalizations dropped from a rate of nearly 29 per 100,000 residents in 2016 to 16.5 per 100,000 last year.

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FILE - OxyContin pills are arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt., Feb. 19, 2013. The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says a comprehensive review of the opioid painkillers that triggered the nation's ongoing drug overdose epidemic is in the works. But FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf faces skepticism about the long-promised review from lawmakers, experts and advocates after years of delay. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

Hospitalizations don’t tell the entire story, of course.

“While these results show decreases in the inpatient treatment of opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania, care provided in other settings such as emergency departments or by first responders may show different patterns,” warned Barry Buckingham, executive director of the council, an independent state agency that compiles information intended to help better, more cost-effective health care.

In addition, more than 150 of those hospitalizations ended in fatalities, the council reported.

There’s much work yet to be done in the ongoing battle against opioid abuse but the diminished hospitalization rates show progress is being made on at least one front.

Thumbs down for the millions of dollars being left on the table because of an ongoing battle regarding Pennsylvania’s participation in a regional initiative to fight climate change.

The state ostensibly joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in April after Gov. Tom Wolf overcame months of Republican pushback. But legal challenges since then have prevented the state from taking part in the cap-and-trade program, in which members agree to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while regulated power companies buy pollution permits at auctions.

The most recent carbon-allowance auction, held last month, generated more than $300 million, of which Pennsylvania saw none.

“It’s disappointing that attempts to delay RGGI are resulting in Pennsylvania missing out on significant economic benefits, not to mention crucial time to cut our carbon emissions,” state Sen. Carolyn Comitta of Chester County told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

You’d think cutting emissions would be more of a priority among lawmakers in a state that has led the nation in premature deaths per capita due to air pollution. And the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is inarguable as raging storms and rising sea levels devastate coastal communities and threaten to displace millions.

Officials in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Quality Board have taken the case to the state Supreme Court. That panel should lose no further time in greenlighting Pennsylvania’s participation in this important, and potentially lucrative, regional initiative. 

Thumbs up, speaking of supreme courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court for rejecting an effort to redraw Pennsylvania’s congressional electoral map.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf early this year rejected the map submitted by Republican majorities in the General Assembly. That passed the redistricting decision, required to reflect population changes after the 2020 census, to the state Supreme Court.

The court-approved map drew opposition from Republicans, who unsuccessfully asked a U.S. District Judge and then the Supreme Court to intervene. When those efforts failed, former Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello appealed anew to the high court, arguing that state courts are prevented by the Constitution form interfering in legislative map-making.

The court announced last week that it has declined to hear the case, which is good news but only to a point. The justices will hear a similar case out of North Carolina, meaning judicial oversight of election-related decisions by state legislatures remains threatened.

The gerrymandered electoral maps and related efforts at partisan advantage already being perpetrated will be nothing compared to the abuses in store if the high court takes the unfortunate step of removing judicial review.