LACKAWANNA COUNTY -- Governor Tom Wolf declared Pennsylvania's opioid crisis a state emergency.
He made the announcement in Harrisburg on Wednesday.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the epidemic claimed 4,600 Pennsylvania lives in 2016, and more than 5,000 last year.
"Those who we have lost are not just numbers," Gov. Wolf said. "They're mothers. They're fathers, sons, daughters, family members, neighbors, all of them contributing members of our society. They're people whose parents and grandparents I have sat with and heard how devastating this disease is for all of them. We mourn their losses, and we try to empathize with the pain most of us cannot even begin to imagine. But as we do, we understand we also have to act quickly and decisively to make sure those numbers don't continue to grow."
Under the new legislation, the state plans to establish a command center that would be staffed by various department heads and allow them to better coordinate opioid treatment and prevention.
Wolf also hopes to make Narcan, a drug that reverses an opioid overdose, more available.
Joe Moran is a paramedic for Commonwealth Health EMS, located in Scranton. He sees overdose victims from opioids or heroin on a daily basis.
“A lot of our providers, most of their day is spent dealing with overdoses and overdose deaths,” said Moran. “It's become apparent that it is one of our primary responses this day.”
Moran applauds Governor Wolf taking a harsh stance against this crisis. He says being allowed to leave an additional dose of Narcan with someone who overdosed is lifesaving.
“After we leave the scene, if the patient doesn't go for a reason, or if they come home after going to the hospital, to have an extra dose there for the family members to be able to treat them, could save a life.”
“So if someone was suffering an emergency, you would just take this device, put it up to their nostril, spray it in, so it's really very simple,” said Tom DePietro, the owner of DePietro's Pharmacy in Dunmore, as he demonstrated how to give someone a dose of Narcan.
DePietro says when customers have opioid prescriptions, he tells them he has Narcan in stock. He also warns them how dangerous opioids can be.
“Most of the customers wanted to be educated on it, and it is an epidemic, and accidents happen every day,” said DePietro.
Marty Henehan lost his daughter, Sammi, to a heroin-fentanyl overdose in April 2016.
He commends what the governor is doing.
“For him to take such an aggressive stand against it and to have that collaborative coalition almost in Harrisburg now to formulate a plan and to attack that plan, I'm really excited to see where it goes from here,” said Henehan.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society also thanked the governor and it promised to continue to work with those in Harrisburg in fighting the epidemic.
The governor says legally the state of emergency can only last 90 days, but he's prepared to extend it if need be.