Despite clear knowledge of a heroin epidemic in Pennsylvania, state lawmakers have for years given the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) few state funds.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget shows that he wants to change that, nearly doubling the funds allocated for general operations (check our January story for the full rundown).
Pennsylvania has an estimated 40,000 heroin users. It ranks third nationally in heroin addiction.
Last year, the department got $628,000 in operating funds. Now Wolf wants to give it about $1.12 million, roughly a 78 percent increase.
On top of these funds, Wolf wants to spend $5 million more in state funds for local drug treatment. County treatment agencies, which DDAP oversees, routinely run out of money. This means they are unable to treat drug addicts when they are asking for help.
Experts say the window of opportunity to get heroin users to treatment is very small. If they’re ready one day and can’t get in, they tend to go back to the drugs they’re craving, almost immediately.
Last year, state assistance to local programs totaled $41.2 million. Wolf wants to increase that to $46.2 million.
As PublicSource reported in January, creating a stand-alone department was estimated to cost $2.1 million in state funds.
But in 2012, its first year, lawmakers gave it only $466,000 for general operations. That’s less than a quarter of the estimate from the House Committee on Appropriations.
For contrast, the state spends roughly $5.3 billion annually on the collateral costs of drug addiction.
The measly budget meant the department couldn’t hire the additional staff it needed (it was previously a bureau with 76 employees).
Instead of 22 new employees, the department got three. Employees who transferred over from the bureau were asked to do more, and the state gave them little to do it with. These employees were paid mostly using federal funds.
Staffing shortages meant the department needed help from universities, another state agency and others to complete grant applications. This help meant the department has received additional federal funding.
But Kim Bowman, the department’s former deputy secretary, said DDAP could have asked for additional grant money if it had the staff to do the time-consuming applications.
In other words, it lacked the resources to even effectively ask for more resources.
At the beginning of 2015, DDAP had 15 vacancies.
Wolf’s budget shows that he thinks fighting the state’s heroin epidemic is worthy of state money.
But the budget has a long, long road ahead before it’s signed into law. Republican leadership bristled at Wolf’s proposed new taxes and spending across the government. The state’s budget deficit is projected at $2.3 billion.
While Wolf and former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, have clearly different approaches to government, they do agree on one thing.
In January, Wolf announced that he’d keep Gary Tennis, Corbett’s DDAP secretary, to coordinate the state’s approach to the heroin crisis.
Tennis, a former prosecutor, has been widely praised for his leadership and making the most of the few resources he has.
This fact-based local reporting drives impact and creates change. Help power that impact.
James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” PublicSource exists to help the Pittsburgh region face its realities and create opportunities for change. When we shine a light on inequity in our region, like the “completely unacceptable” conditions in low-income housing in McKeesport, things change. When we ask questions about policymakers’ decisions, like how Allegheny County is handling COVID-19 safety for its employees, things change. When we push for transparency on issues that affect the public, like in the use of facial recognition software by Pittsburgh police, things change.
It takes a lot of time, skill and resources to produce journalism like this. Our stories are always made available for free so that they can benefit the most people, regardless of ability to pay. But as an independent, nonprofit newsroom, we count on donations from our readers to support this crucial work. Can you make a contribution of any amount (or better yet, set up a recurring monthly gift) to help ensure we can continue to report on what matters and tell stories for a better Pittsburgh?