Senator Gene Yaw to Introduce Safe Opioid Prescribing Curriculum for Medical Students

Senator Gene YawOn Monday June 6th, 2016, Pennsylvania Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) said he is going to introduce legislation proposing that medical schools in Pennsylvania should have Safe Opioid Prescribing Curriculum.

The Safe Opioid Prescribing Curriculum would be provided through state funding. The following four key areas will be focused on: Instructing medical students about managing substance abuse disorders as a chronic disease; focusing on those patients who are at risk of developing problems with prescription opioids; pain management; and multimodal treatments for chronic pain that lessens the use of opioids, or prescribing opioids in a safe way according to guidelines when they need to be prescribed.

Students taking the Safe Opioid Prescribing Curriculum would have to show that they are proficient in the use of the heroin overdose antidote naloxone. Yaw issued the following statement regarding the proposed Safe Opioid Prescribing Curriculum, “We must collectively do more to address the rise in opioid abuse impacting our communities… It’s disturbing to learn that veterinarians often receive more training in pain management that many of our medical doctors. We need to have people properly trained in these areas. Our response to the heroin and opioid epidemic continues to evolve. As such, we need to evolve our curricula being taught in our medical schools. Training in certain areas, such as pain management, is a pivotal first step.”

Yaw said that the Safe Opioid Prescribing Curriculum would be a part of medical students’ overall education. The Pennsylvania Board of Medicine would have to evaluate the Safe Opioid Prescribing Curriculum every three years. You can read about other legislation Yaw has introduced concerning opioids and heroin here.

Yaw has been very vocal about the issue of opioid abuse in the Commonwealth. On April 28th, he attended a meeting at the Pennsylvania College of Technology along with Governor Tom Wolf and others in order to talk about the efforts being taken to fight opioid abuse and heroin use in Pennsylvania. Yaw issued the following statement at that time, “We appreciate the opportunity to sit down with Governor Wolf today in order to increase public awareness of the heroin and opioid crisis facing our rural counties… However, this is not just a rural issue. It’s a statewide issue.  Fortunately, we have a coalition in Lycoming County called Project Bald Eagle that is working to stem the tide of heroin and opioid abuse through education, prevention, treatment, enforcement and data monitoring.  Undoubtedly, it will take a statewide-wide effort to combat this issue and we thank the Governor for his involvement.”

Yaw is on the Project Bald Eagle Board of Directors. Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour of the Pennsylvania College of Technology is the Project Bald Eagle President. According to the Project Bald Eagle website, it’s mission is as follows, “Project Bald Eagle is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is leading coalition efforts to stem the tide of the heroin epidemic through Education, Prevention, Treatment, Enforcement and Data Monitoring.”


West Nile Virus Found in Two PA Counties in May

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental ProtectionAccording to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the  Pennsylvania Department of Health, two instances of West Nile Virus were found in Pennsylvania so far in 2016.

The first instance of West Nile Virus was on May 2nd from a Red-tailed Hawk in Centre County’s Worth Township. The second instance of West Nile Virus was on May 17th from a Turkey Vulture in Franklin County’s Orrstown Borough.

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell issued a following statement in response to the two instances of West Nile Virus, “DEP vigilantly monitors the mosquito population across Pennsylvania with a comprehensive surveillance and control network. When West Nile Virus is identified, DEP staff works quickly to prevent the spread of the virus… Today’s announcement serves as a reminder that all Pennsylvanians should take precautions to protect against mosquitos.”

Pennsylvania started an integrated pest management program in 2004. Pennsylvania has seen an improvement in both the identification and control of mosquito populations. Surveys in counties where West Nile Virus has been found in the past are regularly conducted. Areas that are impacted by West Nile Virus are treated safely with control substances by the DEP as needed.

Mosquitoes that do carry West Nile Virus can cause people to contract West Nile fever or West Nile encephalitis. West Nile encephalitis is an infection that can lead to brain inflammation. In 2015, West Nile Virus was found in 56 countries. Fourteen people contracted West Nile Virus in 2015, and one person died.

The majority of people that get infected with West Nile Virus do not get sick. However, everyone is at risk of getting West Nile Virus. The elderly and those with weakened immune systems have the greatest risk of getting sick and having severe complications from West Nile Virus.

To help protect yourself and your family from getting West Nile Virus, make sure there is no stagnant water around your home as that is where mosquitoes lay their eggs. They also lay their eggs near weeds, shrubbery, and tall grass. Make sure you throw away any outdoor containers that hold water, including buckets, plastic containers, cans, ceramic pots, and even discarded tires. If you have outdoor recycling containers, drill holes in the bottom of them. Clean your roof gutters each year so they do not become clogged. When plastic wading pools are not being used, turn them over. Turn over wheelbarrows as well. Make sure water in birdbaths does not become stagnant. If you have ornamental pools, stock them with fish or aerate them. When swimming pools are not in use, chlorinate and clean them. Discard any water that collects on pool covers. BTI products may be purchased at outdoor supply, home improvement, and lawn and garden stores to use on stagnant pools of water. The bacterium is naturally occurring and safe and it will kill mosquito larva.

You should also help prevent yourself and your family from being bitten by mosquitoes. To keep mosquitoes out of your home, make sure that screens are secure over doors and windows. You might want to wear clothing that fully covers your arms, legs, and feet when you are outdoors. Mosquitoes are most active during dawn and dusk. You may want to avoid being outdoors during these hours as well. Mosquito season peaks from April to October. Insect repellents can help as well. DEET, lemon eucalyptus oil, and picaridin are known to be effective against mosquitoes. Make sure you talk with your family physician or pediatrician before using an insect repellent on children. Children under two months should not use an insect repellent.

If you would like more information about West Nile Virus and what Pennsylvania is doing to combat it, you can visit

Wolf Wants $34 Million to Build Outpatient Treatment Centers for Opioid Addiction

Governor Tom WolfPennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) addressed the press at the Center for Substance Abuse Research at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine as he discussed the topic of opioid abuse in the Commonwealth while in Philadelphia on Thursday, June 2nd.

Wolf is requesting a $34 million budget that would be used to focus on opioid abuse in Pennsylvania. In addition, $16 million from Medicaid would be used to combat opioid addiction. Wolf would like to see 50 outpatient treatment centers built in Pennsylvania. These centers would serve as many as 11,000 people annually. He acknowledged that the budget would only be “a start” to addressing the heroin addiction problem and that  “we in Harrisburg are just waking up to the problem.” He also said, “This is something we really need to address in a much more comprehensive way… That’s a placeholder.”

Wolf asked the following two questions, “The question is why do we have this crisis of opioid addiction?… And second, what are we going to do about it?” In regards to treatment centers being built, Wolf said the exact help that heroin addicts need is still being determined. Wolf explained, “One of the things we have to do is find out what that need is… We need to get a better answer to the question. The problem is all over the state.”

The Legislature, which is currently controlled by the GOP, must pass a budget before July 1st when the 2016-2017 fiscal year begins. Wolf said that he believes people are wanting to address the heroin addiction problem regardless of their political party. He said, “This is something that cuts across party lines, class lines, geographical lines in Pennsylvania… I think there is real interest in doing something about this.”

Pennsylvania is currently number one for overdose deaths in the United States. According to Wolf’s office, at least seven Pennsylvanians die per day due to heroin overdoses. According to Wolf, he is especially focusing on drug addiction. Wolf hosted two opioid roundtable discussions in southeast Pennsylvania during the week of Monday, May 16th. The roundtable discussions were hosted in Bensalem and Brookhaven. The discussions were part of a tour across Pennsylvania where law enforcement, emergency responders, local officials, health care professionals, and state lawmakers talked about combining efforts in order to fight the problem of opioid addiction in Pennsylvania. Wolf issued the following statement after the roundtable discussions, “I look forward to continue working collaboratively with the General Assembly and community leaders to ensure Pennsylvania leads the nation in the fight to combat the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic… The magnitude of the addiction and overdose death epidemic in Pennsylvania is shocking: at least seven Pennsylvanians die every day from a drug overdose. With nearly 2,500 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2014 and estimates that the 2015 total will be higher, a collaborative effort on the federal, state, and local levels is crucial in combating this crisis.”

PA Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force Created

penndotOn Wednesday, June 1st, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Secretary Leslie S. Richards along with other transportation officials discussed the subject of autonomous vehicles being developed in the Commonwealth at the first meeting of the new Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force.

Richards issued the following statement, “We are always looking at ways to make travel safer, and these new vehicle technologies offer a huge opportunity to not only advance our network, but also reduce human behavior as a factor in crashes… We’re looking forward to expanding on the innovation that’s already alive and well here in Pittsburgh so companies can test their technologies in our state’s varied seasons and roadway types.”

The first meeting of the Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force was held in Pittsburgh. Along with PennDOT, the Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force will write guidelines that PennDOT will reference when it writes policy on autonomous vehicles. The task force includes officials at the state, federal, and private-industry level. PennDOT is leading the task force, while Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the Federal Highway Administration, Uber Technologies, and AAA are task force members. Carnegie Mellon University said its students and faculty have worked on the safety and affordability of self-driving cars for over three decades. Fourteen generations of self-driving vehicles were made by the university. Their newest self-driving vehicle is a 2011 Cadillac SRX. The vehicle is able to  merge onto highways, take ramps, and cruise at 70 mph on its own. In addition, the university has made important AV technology invention contributions.

Lawmakers attended the event as well. The lawmakers who attended support legislation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the Pennsylvania Senate that would make Pennsylvania a leader in the United States in regards to testing autonomous vehicles.

Senator Randy Vulakovich (R) made the following statement, “I am delighted to see Pittsburgh and CMU taking a leadership role in autonomous vehicles and hope today’s event shows our commitment to supporting this ground breaking research. The work being done at CMU is a source of pride for not only Pittsburgh, but the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania… By working with all of the stake holder groups, I believe SB 1268 will foster innovation while at the same time ensure the safety of motorists on our public roads.”

The legislation would include the following:

Provide for controlled automated vehicle testing, not operation;
Allow flexibility to adapt to changing technology;
Require companies interested in testing to submit an application and provide proof of $5 million in general liability insurance; and
Allow support for in-vehicle and remote-operator testing, considered the “Full Self-Driving Automation” level, the fourth and highest level of automation as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Senator Wayne Fontana (D) said the following, “Pittsburgh being chosen as one of the seven finalists out of nearly 80 cities that applied for the [U.S. Department of Transportation’s] Smart City Challenge is a testament to the innovation happening in the region. Pennsylvania as a whole has a lot to offer and my hopes are that the introduction of SB 1268 will help universities and companies that are testing these vehicles of the future feel welcomed in the commonwealth and inspire future generations.”

Senator Jay Costa (D) said the following, “The concept of autonomous cars is something many of us never thought we’d be discussing in our lifetime…. What’s exciting to me is that right here in Pittsburgh, we’re in the center of where this innovation is happening at places like Google, Uber and most importantly, here at Carnegie Mellow University. Innovation brings growth and will have a lasting impact on our communities. As we move forward, we’re not only testing the concept of autonomous vehicles, we’re growing jobs and driving economic development in our communities.”

Senator John Rafferty (R), who is the Senate Transportation Committee Chairman, said the following, “Autonomous and connected vehicles will be integrated in the next generation of our transportation system… One of the primary reasons for Senate Bill 1268 is to test the incorporation of this advanced technology on our roadways that provides for safety, mobility, innovation and economic development.”

Senator John Wozniak (D) said the following, “Autonomous and connected vehicles offer a promising glimpse into the future of our transportation system… I’m proud that Pennsylvania is one of the states leading the development of this cutting edge technology. However, it’s important that the public knows these cars are safe and SB 1268 addresses those concerns while at the same time allowing Pennsylvania to stay competitive in this field for years to come.”

Representative Jim Marshall (R), who is the House Subcommittee Chairman for Transportation Safety, said the following “With matters of public safety, we must be proactive, not reactive. This important legislation will get Pennsylvania out in front of this new and evolving technology.” Marshall is sponsoring autonomous vehicle legislation.

Wolf to Ink Legislation Directing PA School Funds Distribution

governor tom wolfPennsylvania Secretary of Policy and Planning, Sarah Galbally, announced on Wednesday, June 1st, that Governor Tom Wolf (D) will ink legislation outlining how state funds will be distributed among schools in the Commonwealth.

In June of 2015, the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission adopted the Basic Education Funding (BEF) Formula. According to Galbally, BEF “provides sufficient, predictable and equitable funding for school districts” in Pennsylvania. Also according to Galbally, Pennsylvania was one of three states that lacked such a formula.

The formula takes the following information about students into account: The amount of students who are in poverty, the amount of students that attend a charter school, and the amount of children who are learning English. In addition, the following district information is taken into account: The current tax effort of the district and the district’s ability to raise revenue.

Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) Executive Director Nathan Mains issued the following statement ahead of Wolf’s expected signing of the BEF legislation, “This is a historic moment in providing adequate, equitable and fair school funding in Pennsylvania… PSBA supported the use of the funding formula in distributing money through the fiscal code and is pleased that the BEF Commission formula will become permanently implemented in the School Code once Gov. Tom Wolf signs the bill… A formula goes a long way to help school entities develop their annual budgets. Additionally, a formula will help with the equitable distribution of school funding to alleviate the current disparities in how state dollars are allocated.”

There is a $200 million increase in the basic education subsidy within the 2016-2017 budget established by Wolf. The BEF formula would be used to distribute the subsidy. According to Galbally, the increase will help schools in the Commonwealth recover from cuts they experiences in 2011. In addition, students will get a “quality public education” no matter where they live in the Commonwealth. Galbally also acknowledged that there is still “more work” to be done.

Rep. Matt Baker Announces Prescription Drug Monitoring Database Launching in Summer

matt bakerRepresentative Matt Baker (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) announced that an enhanced prescription drug monitoring program will launch this summer.

Baker, who is the House Health Committee chairman, made the announcement on Wednesday, June 1st. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the program known as the Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions Program (ABC-MAP) Act provides pharmacists, doctors, and law enforcement alike with more information so they can better deal with the prescription drug abuse. The program uses an electronic database that lists every controlled substance that is prescribed and dispensed in the Commonwealth. Using the database, patient care will be enhanced and drug diversion will be detectable. In addition, “doctor shopping” will be identifiable.

Baker issued the following statement about the ABC-MAP Act, “I am proud to have supported key language in the legislation creating this program… As a longtime advocate of using technology to improve health care, this program seems like the perfect tool to identify patients in need of treatment and pinpoint any possible fraud or abuse taking place by those professionals prescribing and filling prescriptions. Although the state had a previous drug monitoring program, it was not being used to its fullest potential.”

Baker went on to say the following, “According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drugs are the second-most abused category of drugs in the United States, following marijuana… In fact, drug overdoses now surpass the number of deaths each year from automobile accidents in Pennsylvania. We need to be more proactive in helping those who have been caught in the web of drug addiction, and stop those who are overprescribing these addictive narcotics.”

Prior to the ABC-MAP Act, doctors and dispensers did not have such information at their fingertips. Now, health care professionals will be able to better identify drug abuse as well as improve patient care. According to Baker, the database enables the people who use it to “red flag” any suspicious practices dealing with prescribing, disbursing, or procuring controlled substances. For instance, if a person gets narcotic prescriptions from two separate doctors but gets the prescription filled at two separate pharmacies, it will be indicated on the database. The database is confidential.

In time, prescription drug monitoring systems will be shareable between states. So, people who live near two state borders who might use doctors and pharmacies in both states will be able to be tracked. The law was signed in 2014. The Pennsylvania Department of Health will maintain the database.

PA Medical Marijuana Regulations Being Written

governor tom wolfAccording to Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy, it will likely be two years until medical marijuana is available for qualified patients in Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday, Murphy explained that regulations are being written. In addition, her agency is finding people that will process and grow medical marijuana. Physicians must be certified, growers must be licensed, and plants must be tracked.

According to Murphy, regulations will be written in July outlining how parents will be able to bring medical marijuana that was bought legally in another state to Pennsylvania so that it may be administered to children that have a qualifying condition.

In April, Governor Tom Wolf (D) inked legislation that will enable eligible patients in Pennsylvania to be prescribed medical marijuana. The marijuana products will be sold in oil, ointment, pill, liquid, or vapor form.