Pennsylvania could land as much as $46 million under President Barack Obama’s $1.1 billion proposal to tackle the opioid-abuse crisis, his administration said Friday, urging Congress to adopt the measure.
“We have to get people rehabilitation. If not, we’re just going to keep locking people up — and it’s not going to cure the problem,” said Fred Harran, a public safety director in Bensalem, Bucks County, who joined a White House press briefing on the matter.
Potential disbursements for Pennsylvania would spread across two years, supporting expanded access to treatments for opioid disorders. Mr. Obama included the funding mechanism in his 2016-17 federal budget plan in February. Each state could receive money for treatments based on the severity of its opioid epidemic and the effectiveness of its response strategies, said Michael Botticelli, director of the National Drug Control Policy office.
About 2,400 people in Pennsylvania died from opioid overdoses in 2014, according to the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association. Medical examiners blamed about 1,600 of those deaths on prescription narcotics, the rest on heroin.
“I think there’s goodwill on both sides [of the political system] and a sense of urgency that we really need to deal with this,” said Gov. Tom Wolf, who supports Mr. Obama’s opioid proposal.
Although Pennsylvania has widened access to naloxone, an anti-overdose treatment, and helped residents to dispose of their unused prescriptions, such steps are “only a start,” Mr. Wolf said. He said the commonwealth still needs more treatment beds to care for addicts.
“We know we have a big problem, but we don’t know the exact magnitude,” said Mr. Wolf, who plans a special session of the Legislature this year to address the opioid crisis. “We have too few treatment centers, and we can treat too few people who have this disease.”
In 2014, a federal estimate suggested that more than 200,000 people in Pennsylvania needed but did not receive treatment for illicit drug use.
Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, has included $34 million in his 2016-17 state budget plan for 50 Centers of Excellence, where he said people emerging from drug treatment can readjust to society. The effort would help about 11,000 people, according to his administration.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., often a critic of the White House, did not immediately comment Friday on Mr. Obama’s opioid proposal. Mr. Toomey has backed a three-part approach to the crisis, fighting the illegal diversion of prescription drugs and the excessive prescription of narcotics.
He also has argued for expanded treatment options. Mr. Toomey cheered this month a Senate committee action that would nearly double funding for programs to address the crisis, his office said.
Adam Smeltz: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2625. Twitter: asmeltz.