In a White House press call this afternoon, Gov. Tom Wolf and Bensalem Director of Public Safety Fred Harran discussed the importance of funding for treatment and rehabilitation for people suffering from substance abuse disorder.
The discussion took place just over a week after the White House released a breakdown of the $1.1 billion requested by President Obama to help combat the national opioid abuse epidemic.
If approved, Pennsylvania could receive up to $46 million over two years. The money would be used to expand access to treatment, eliminate or reduce treatment costs for uninsured or underinsured people, and bolster recovery support programs.
What that should translate into, according to Harran, is more direct services for those in need.
“I certainly hope we don’t create a couple more directors of treatment centers. We need beds,” he said.
Specifically, those beds are for centers to accommodate more people seeking treatment, and keep them there longer.
Currently, most insurance companies approve around 30 days in a treatment center, while studies show that 90- to 180-day stays are much more effective. And, that’s if people actually get in: Centers are relatively sparse throughout the state, and often cannot accept more patients.
“If we don’t get people treatment, we’re just throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” said Harran. “Arresting is a huge part, we need to arrest dealers and people bringing it in… but we have to deal with the folks requesting it.”
That’s based on what Harran sees every day in Bensalem: 80 percent of crime in the township is drug-related — “People don’t break into your house to pay their electric bill. They break in to get their next high,” he noted — while arrests and drug overdoses and fatalities have both been skyrocketing in recent years.
It’s a matter of numbers as well: Rehabilitation costs a dollar for every $7 it costs to incarcerate someone instead.
“Put the tax dollars to good use; get ‘em off drugs,” Harran said.
It’s the same statewide, as Gov. Wolf pointed out. Pennsylvania already has some programs in place: 60 of the 67 counties have drop boxes where people can safely discard prescription drugs, and the Prescription Drug Database, which helps track prescriptions of certain drugs across the state, will be up and running in August.
There are also facilities throughout the state that are run through the Center of Excellence, which helps people with substance abuse disorder reintegrate themselves and avoid initial or further contact with the justice system.
But these are only a start, with many areas not served at all by these centers. There’s currently $34 million in the state budget, bolstered by an additional $18 million in Medicaid.
The $46 million in federal funds would go a long way toward expanding these and other treatment programs, which Wolf sees as essential to combating the problem.
“We need to make sure we’re treating this as the disease that it is, and distinguish between the criminal justice element. So much of what we’re dealing with is the medical,” said Wolf.
“If you want treatment, you should be able to get it when you need it.”