Opioids focus of Wolf meeting

Governor meets with law enforcement, leaders in roundtable discussion

EBENSBURG — Cambria County Coroner Jeff Lees told Gov. Tom Wolf that when he talks to families of overdose victims, he learns they became addicted at a young age.

Last year Wolf signed laws limiting the amount of prescription opioids prescribed to children because research has found abuse of prescription opioids leads to heroin addiction.

That’s one of the actions being taken to address Pennsylvania’s opioid problem that kills hundreds in Pennsylvania each year.

Central Cambria High School hosted Wolf Thursday for a roundtable discussion with Cambria County law enforcement and government leaders on the statewide opioid crisis.

“What can we do at the state level to help law enforcement?,” Wolf asked to open the discussion.

Ebensburg Borough Police Chief Terry Wyland said many of the arrests made by the county task force are low-level dealers. The county task force relies on the state Office of the Attorney General to put away the main suppliers, he said.

“The problem, as with anything, is dollars. The Attorney General is limited to investigations because they are manpower intensive,” he said.

Wolf listened and took notes. Others at the table included Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, Cambria County commissioners B.J. Smith and Tom Chernisky, District Attorney Kelly Callihan and Cambria Township Police Chief Gary Makosky.

Central Cambria High School Principal Kim McDermott noted a need for resources for helping students experiencing the effects of addiction.

“Schools need to have resources available for any students who may have those struggles in their families,” she said.

Wolf’s proposed 2017-18 budget, he said, includes an additional $10 million for the opioid overdose antidote noloxone to help first responders save lives.

“I think we are still asking the questions of what we can do,” Wolf said.

In the year Wolf took office, more than 3,000 Pennsylvanians died from drug-related overdoses, of whom 81 percent had a presence of heroin or opioids in their system.

In 2016, hundreds more died from opioid-related overdoses.

Wolf said he’s held about 60 roundtable discussions about the opioid epidemic, and one of the most beneficial aspects of the discussions is that they break the stigma.

“The addiction is not a moral failing,” he said. “People are sick. There are people from good families, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat. Everyone is suffering from this. We don’t need to have thousands of Pennsylvanians dying right now.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.