One of the amendments voters passed in May has complicated the issue.

Gov. Tom Wolf has extended Pennsylvania’s opioid disaster declaration for a 15th time. However, thanks to the state constitutional amendment voters passed earlier this year, it will only last for 21 days.

To extend the declaration further, the legislature will have to come back from recess earlier than it has scheduled. Wolf has asked them to come back and extend the declaration.

“This ongoing public health crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It takes coordination from staff and resources to support and sustain our response across Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a statement.

There have been 5,063 opioid-related deaths reported for 2020. That number is expected to go up as more data is collected, and it’s already 600 more deaths than 2019.

Efforts by the administration to stop the opioid crisis have included getting access to naloxone, cutting down on the number of opioid prescriptions in the state by 40%, and distributing nearly 900 drug take-back boxes around the state.

Amendment Complicates Extension

Previously, Wolf’s disaster declarations lasted for 90 days. However, in May, voters passed a pair of amendments pushed by Republicans to limit the governor’s disaster declarations. 

While the amendments were a reaction to the governor’s efforts to handle the coronavirus pandemic, they affect any disaster declaration.

That means the legislature will need to act for the declaration to continue. If they don’t do so within the next three weeks, the declaration will expire and many efforts by state and local health officials will be affected.

Wolf sent a letter to the legislature on July 3, asking them to “their leaders to consider returning to Harrisburg to extend the disaster declaration to allow for a renewal of collective efforts around the opioid crisis.”