Addiction issue needs attention
Even if the unfolding vaccination effort against COVID-19 has the desired effect of suppressing the pandemic, Pennsylvania still faces another public health emergency.
The scope of the COVID-19 emergency has worsened the opioid addiction crisis.
Pennsylvania is one of the states most heavily affected by the addiction crisis. To the state government’s credit, it had reacted aggressively to the challenge.
The Wolf administration enacted a series of emergency measures to expand access to the lifesaving antidote nalaxone. It, the Legislature and the medical community, worked together to quickly reform prescribing standards for opioids and establish a statewide tracking system to prevent doctor-shopping and excess prescriptions.
It is likely, however, that much of the progress that had been made has been lost because of COVID-19. It’s clear that the state government must reinvigorate its efforts on opioids as COVID-19 recedes. And that should begin with one important business to which the government did not attend before COVID-19 arrived.
Drug treatment operations are regulated heavily by the state. But “recovery homes,” where many people suffering from addiction seek aid before or after treatment, are not regulated.
Due to the lack of regulation, some recovery homes serve as advertised, keeping people off the street and helping them prepare for formal treatment or helping them to continue their progress after receiving treatment.
Others simply have taken advantage of residents for their own profit. A 2019 statewide grand jury report, for example, revealed a scheme by a now-defunct recovery home company that repeatedly cycled clients through the treatment process to maximize billing.
Due to multiple problems with unregulated recovery homes around the state, the Legislature passed a law in 2017 requiring the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to develop regulations and a licensing and certification program by June 2020. But the administration missed the deadline.
To be sure, the COVID-19 emergency took precedence over other state programs.
But now that there at least is a game plan in place to finally get the upper hand on COVID-19, the administration should expedite care home issue and prepare to again accelerate the fight against opioid addiction.