First Study of Commonwealth’s Efforts to Reverse Opioid Epidemic

Last Updated: Dec 13, 2018

For Immediate Release
December 13, 2018
The American Medical Association (AMA), Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) and Manatt Health today released the first in a series of studies of state responses to the opioid epidemic. Focusing on Pennsylvania, the spotlight analysis found that considerable progress is being made to increase access to evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and to increase oversight and enforcement of state parity laws governing mental health and substance use disorder. 
In addition to the continued enforcement and refinement of tools to identify parity violations, the analysis highlights last month’s landmark agreement between the governor’s administration and the seven largest insurers in the state, fully removing prior authorization requirements for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to treat substance use disorders.
“We conducted this analysis because it’s essential that policymakers know what is working, and where additional progress can be made,” said Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, AMA president-elect and chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force. “There is long way to go to fully end the epidemic in Pennsylvania and across the nation, but it’s clear that Pennsylvania’s policymakers are employing multiple strategies that are showing promise.”

The spotlight analysis reviewed how well Pennsylvania is making progress in three main areas:
  1. Increasing access to high-quality, evidence-based care for substance use disorder
  2. Providing comprehensive care to patients with pain
  3. Enhancing access to naloxone
Based on available data, review of policies, and discussions with key policymakers, the spotlight analysis found that there were four key areas where the Commonwealth was succeeding:

  • Comprehensive support for MAT, including removing administrative barriers and establishing 45 Centers of Excellence across the state to expand access to MAT, including mental and behavioral health care services;
  • Enforcement of mental health and substance use disorder parity laws through market conduct examinations of health insurance companies;
  • Comprehensive naloxone access policies, including a statewide standing order and stakeholder support for increased naloxone access has helped save thousands of lives from overdose in just the past two years; and
  • Medically based oversight for Medicaid patients with careful review of care plans for patients with an opioid use disorder as well as for patients with chronic pain, including coverage of non-opioid prescription medications as well as alternative therapies such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and behavioral health services.
“We are pleased to see this study highlight the important progress Pennsylvania is making in our ongoing battle against the opioid crisis,” Governor Tom Wolf said. “By expanding access to naloxone and medication-assisted treatment, among the many initiatives of our Opioid Command Center, we are rescuing more people and getting them into treatment and recovery.”
“We have worked closely with the Wolf Administration and many other stakeholders for the past several years to ensure that policies have a public health and patient focus,” said PAMED President Danae Powers, MD. “We look forward to continuing that close engagement to help make more progress.”
The spotlight analysis also found areas where additional progress could be made: 1) In emergency departments and law enforcement by linking efforts to coordinate patients’ access to high-quality, evidence-based treatment; 2) In insurer and state policies by examining them so they improve access to non-opioid pain care as well as requiring commercial insurers to post their formularies online, with clear designation of commonly used non-opioid pain alternatives, including non-pharmacologic options; and 3) In working collaboratively to further promote co-prescribing of naloxone to patients at risk of overdose.
“As a former insurance commissioner, we wanted to be sure that the recommendations contained in this report are practical and reasonable but also ambitious and commensurate with the challenge,” said Joel Ario, a managing director at Manatt Health Strategies. “Now that so many states have enacted policies designed to reverse the opioid epidemic, it’s critical that in-depth analysis of those policies be made available to policy makers.”
Jack Deutsch, American Medical Association
Ph: (202) 789-7442
Jeff Wirick, Pennsylvania Medical Society
Ph: (717) 909-2651
Angel Fahy, Manatt Health Strategies
Ph: (212) 704-1994
About the American Medical Association:
The American Medical Association is the powerful ally and unifying voice for America’s physicians, the patients they serve, and the promise of a healthier nation. The AMA attacks the dysfunction in health care by removing obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care. It reimagines medical education, training, and lifelong learning for the digital age to help physicians grow at every stage of their careers, and it improves the health of the nation by confronting the increasing chronic disease burden. For more information, visit
About the Pennsylvania Medical Society:
The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) is a physician-led, member-driven organization representing all physicians and medical students throughout the state. We advocate for physicians and their patients, educate physicians through continuing medical education, and provide expert resources and guidance to help physicians and their organizations navigate challenges in today’s ever-evolving health care system. To learn more, visit or follow us on Twitter at @PAMEDSociety
About Manatt Health:
Manatt Health integrates legal and consulting expertise to better serve the complex needs of clients across the healthcare system. Combining legal excellence, firsthand experience in shaping public policy, sophisticated strategy insight and deep analytic capabilities, we provide uniquely valuable professional services to the full range of health industry players. Our diverse team of more than 160 attorneys and consultants from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and its consulting subsidiary, Manatt Health Strategies, LLC, is passionate about helping our clients advance their business interests, fulfill their missions and lead healthcare into the future. For more information, visit

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