Gov. Wolf takes aim at opioids in Philly

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Gov. Wolf at the Capitol in Harrisburg.

Gov. Wolf came to Philadelphia on Friday to tout a $20 million state program to coordinate treatment for people addicted to opioids.

"This is a disease we need to get our arms around," Wolf said at Thomas Jefferson University. "We're losing people every day."

Wolf said 2,500 deaths in Pennsylvania were attributed to opioid overdoses last year, more than twice the 1,200 killed in traffic accidents.

The funding, though modestly spread across the state, is a good start, he said.

Wolf initially had asked for $34 million to launch 50 Centers of Excellence, where people with a history of substance abuse could get care orchestrated to promote recovery and prevent relapse.

State legislators approved $15 million; the remaining $5 million is from federal matching funds.

"I don't think I've heard anyone saying it was too much," said Wolf, who scaled back the project to include 20 centers across the state.

Two treatment projects at Jefferson will split $500,000. The Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Program (NARP) serves 420 people at three city locations. The Maternal Addiction Treatment Education & Research (MATER) division serves 230.

NARP will use its share of the grant to offer its patients more primary care, said Michael J. Vergare, chair of Jefferson University's Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior.

"The programs have reached their limits," Vergare said. "This grant will allow us to take the next step."

Though Vergare said he appreciated the $250,000 windfall, it might not buy very much. "It takes a lot more," Vergare said. "but when you're operating from very little, [a grant] sends a big message to everyone who gets it."

There's no certainty that the grants will be renewed next year, he said.

At MATER, the money will be deployed to keep patients in the program.

"It will pay for services that are necessary but aren't currently reimbursed," said director David Hand.

Wolf said state legislators planned a special session at the end of October to seek a solution to the opioid crisis. He said he would press to expand the state's addiction treatment facilities.

"Usually people run in horror because a special session usually doesn't mean anything," Wolf said. "This is a bipartisan thing. We all want this."

samwood@phillynews.com

215-854-2796 @samwoodiii

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