Pennsylvania’s “Centers of Excellence” is a Step in the Right Direction, But There’s Still a Long Way To Go

With drug addiction reaching epidemic levels in America, it only makes sense to take a closer look at what the government is doing to improve the situation. The responsibility seems to have fallen squarely on the shoulders of state governments, each of which is left to address the problem in their own specific way. This approach, at first blush, may not seem as strong as a federally-backed program might have the potential to be. Giving the same amount of money for each state to take care of their citizens’ drug problems would certainly ensure that some sort of treatment is available across the country, but the fact of the matter is that some states need more attention to this problem than others. What’s more, each state’s drug problems vary greatly. The drug of choice, underlying issues associated with drug usage, population details, and even geography all affect what goes into creating an effective drug addiction treatment program. All of these details, theoretically, are likely better understood by state governments, who likely understand these nuances more intimately than the White House does.

As such, some state governments are taking the creation of anti-addiction programs very seriously, with the help of federal money. Most recently, Pennsylvania decided to dedicate $20 million in state and federal funding to 45 drug treatment centers that treat more than just the effects of detox. This new approach will be more holistic: health care centers will treat addiction as a chemical dependency while addressing the behavioral issues that may have resulted in the development of drug use in the first place. This, in part, means assessing the mental health of recovering addicts and helping them develop behavioral changes and coping mechanisms that healthy.

These “Centers of Excellence,” as they are known, are receiving this extra funding in response to the growing drug problem in the state. In 2015, nearly 3,400 people died of an overdose in the state, leading Governor Tom Wolf to call it a “public health crisis.” Opioid usage, in particular, has grown, just as it has across the country. With 80 percent of people who make emergency room trips due to overdose not receiving proper follow-up care, the evidence certainly points to a systemic problem, one that Gov. Wolf is trying to fix through providing extra funding to these centers.

The hope is that by making it easier for patients to access the assistance the Centers of Excellence can provide, they will be more likely to have a successful recovery and decrease their chances of relapse. What’s more, the funding will go to treatment centers all across the state, which will accept patients who have either Medicaid, private insurance, or want to pay out of pocket, ensuring no one who needs help is denied it.

This is but one aspect of Pennsylvania’s struggle to fight drug addiction. While the Centers of Excellence will certainly go a long way towards saving lives, the state has other issues to address before it can say its drug issue has been taken care of. Namely, there are not enough members of local law enforcement with access to lifesaving overdose antidotes like Narcan, especially in rural areas, where it can take too long for emergency medical service to arrive. This proves that while it helps that there are both rural and urban Centers of Excellence receiving funding, there are still steps to be taken in order to make sure lives are saved on the most basic level of treatment.

Time will tell how other states’ governments choose to address drug addiction, but Pennsylvania is nonetheless an interesting case study.