PA: Pennsylvania lawmakers dismayed by lack of data on drug treatment center violations depicted in Morning Call story

The Morning Call News –

The newspaper counted at least 23 client deaths, 17 assaults and dozens of incidents involving police, fire or ambulance crews that were mentioned in the violations.

Lawmakers from both parties were dismayed by a Morning Call report that brought to light the state’s lack of comprehensive data on violations at drug treatment centers on the front lines in the opioid-driven drug crisis.

“It is disturbing to learn that appropriate reporting is not done with these facilities. How else can we learn if taxpayer funds are being utilized as we would all hope?” said Republican state Sen. David Argall of Schuylkill County. “We need to do much better.”

The story revealed the centers have gone unpunished for violating state regulations that require timely reports of unusual incidents, and that the state had no overall count of them.

The newspaper counted at least 23 client deaths, 17 assaults and dozens of incidents involving police, fire or ambulance crews that were mentioned in the violations.

Argall, chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, said it would soon conduct an “open and bipartisan” review of a long-dormant bill on drug treatment centers filed by Democratic Sen. Judy Schwank of Berks County.

She questioned how the state could ever get handle on how the centers are functioning without numbers on “the most egregious kind of incidents.”

Republican Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill of York County said the fact overall numbers of such incidents were not available was disconcerting.

Democratic state Sen. Katie Muth of Chester County said it was crippling.

“If you can’t get all the data and look at it holistically, you can’t solve problems,” Muth said. “You are just spitballing it.”

Pennsylvania had the third-highest number of overdose deaths in the U.S. in the federal government’s latest 12-month preliminary count, with 5,197, and ranks sixth on a per-capita basis.

Phillips-Hill called the number “staggering,” especially in light of the fact the state has been under a “disaster declaration” for the drug crisis for more than three years. It was first declared by Gov. Tom Wolf on Jan. 10, 2018.

A spokeswoman for Wolf, Lyndsay Kensinger, has said it would be inaccurate to say Pennsylvania is doing “poorly” compared to other states. She said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows overdose deaths are increasingly less rapidly in Pennsylvania than in other states.

The Wolf administration, she said, has issued a strategic plan on the crisis, eliminated doctor-shopping by using the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, led in the distribution of tens of thousands of free naloxone kits, and waived burdensome regulations, among other things.

The 800 or so Pennsylvania treatment centers, including both non-profit and for-profit entities, currently get their licenses free of charge from the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

At least some other states charge centers for the licenses.

Schwank’s bill allows the Pennsylvania agency to start charging license fees and calls for centers to be inspected at least every two years. She filed it in the last legislative session and it never came to a vote, even in a committee, and she re-filed it at the start of the current session.

Schwank said she would be willing to amend the bill to allow the state agency to assess fines for violations.

The Pennsylvania agency — also unlike its counterparts in other states — has no ability to charge fines when regulations are violated.

Muth was surprised by the lack of fees and fines.

In oversight of other types of publicly accessed facilities, Muth said, “It is common sense: If the facility isn’t kept up well, it gets fined.”

She added, “It could be a tiered system. You know, the first thing is a warning.”

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