Gov. Tom Wolf said on Friday he does not support plans to operate a safe injection site in Philadelphia.
“With all due respect to my predecessor and the mayor, they’re trying to do the right thing, but my goal and I think all of the people who are working to address this epidemic, would be to say we really don’t want anybody to inject anything into their body,” he said. “And if we get to that point, there won’t be a need for a safe injection site and that would be the goal.”
However, Wolf also said he won’t do anything to interfere with the establishment of a safe injection site in the city.
The site, which would be operated by nonprofit Safehouse, already is facing a federal challenge.
“I have focused my efforts and the efforts of the commonwealth and all the public-private partnerships in the direction of ‘let’s figure out how to keep people from the point where they inject anything into their bodies that they shouldn’t,’” Wolf said.
The governor was at Walgreens’ flagship store in Philadelphia on Friday to promote safe medication disposal boxes as part of the other efforts directed at fighting the opioid epidemic. He was joined by representatives of AmerisourceBergen, Independence Blue Cross, Pfizer and Walgreens.
“The opioid epidemic is something that effects people from all across the state,” Wolf said. “This is not an urban or a rural thing.”
The governor first signed a 90-day opioid epidemic disaster declaration in 2018, and renewed it for a sixth time on Wednesday, so Pennsylvania agencies could pool resources and expertise to make a concerted effort to battle the epidemic. Today, 16 state agencies and many organizations are working to fight the epidemic.
Efforts include getting more people into treatment, providing the lifesaving overdose reversal drug naloxone and funding 45 Centers of Excellence for substance use disorder treatment in communities across the state. Wolf noted that the expansion of Medicaid coverage has enabled 125,000 Pennsylvania residents to be treated for substance abuse disorders.
Drug overdoses claimed the lives of approximately 5,300 Pennsylvanians in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Wolf said preliminary data for 2018 indicates the number has decreased in some parts of the state.
“The early signals are that for the first time we are starting to turn the corner in terms of opioid deaths in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “We are still losing thousands of people and we still have a lot of work to do but here we are making some progress and its thanks in no small part to organizations like Walgreens.”
Gina Clark, executive vice president, chief communications and administration officer at AmerisourceBergen, said safe storage and disposal of prescription drugs is part of the answer when it comes to addressing the opioid epidemic.
“We know that two-thirds of teens who have abused prescription opioids get them from family or friends, so these safe disposal kiosks are important and invaluable in this fight,” Clark said.
Wolf noted Pennsylvania now has more than 800 medication drop boxes — at pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, police departments and other locations.
The Drug Enforcement Administration collected 39,615 pounds of prescription drugs from boxes across the state on Oct. 27, 2018, according to a press release from the agency. More than half — 20,462 pounds — of the drugs collected that day came from the Philadelphia region, with 9,884 pounds coming from Bucks County, 9,057 pounds from Montgomery County, 936 pounds from Chester County, 393 pounds from the city and 232 pounds from Delaware County.