- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Gov. Tom Wolf’s $34 million budget request to address Pennsylvania’s opioid abuse crisis is “a start” as the state begins to understand the scope and need of a statewide epidemic, he told reporters Thursday.

Speaking briefly to reporters at the Center for Substance Abuse Research at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Wolf acknowledged that “we in Harrisburg are just waking up to the problem.”

“The question is, why do we have this crisis of opioid addiction?” Wolf said. “And second, what are we going to do about it?”

If approved by the state legislature, Wolf said his request - along with approximately $16 million in Medicaid funding - would help fund the creation of 50 outpatient treatment centers across the state that could serve up to 11,000 people a year. But he called the funding “a down payment” that only begins to address the scope of heroin addiction.

“This is something we really need to address in a much more comprehensive way,” he said. “That’s a placeholder.”

Wolf’s call for heroin funding comes in the wake of a record budget standoff and months before many lawmakers face re-election this fall. The GOP-controlled Legislature has only a few weeks left to pass a budget before the start of the 2016-17 fiscal year on July 1.

Still, the Democratic governor suggested the issue is one that should transcend politics.

“This is something that cuts across party lines, class lines, geographical lines in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “I think there is real interest in doing something about this.”

Opioid and heroin abuse has become an issue of increasing concern in Pennsylvania. The state ranks among the top in the country for drug overdose deaths. The governor’s office says that heroin overdoses kill at least seven Pennsylvanians a day.

Wolf, who took office in 2015, has said the crisis is a top priority for his administration. Addiction treatment is part of a larger approach that also includes addressing the excessive availability of prescription drugs - seen as a major gateway to addiction - overdose prevention and treatment of incarcerated addicts.

But the lack of treatment centers has been a common refrain across the state. On Thursday, Wolf did not say how many more beds the state needs or where they will be.

“One of the things we have to do is find out what that need is,” he said. “We need to get a better answer to the question. The problem is all over the state.”

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This story has been corrected to show the name of the center at Temple University is the Center for Substance Abuse Research, not the Center for Substance Abuse and Research.

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