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Gov. Wolf cabinet leaders hold community discussion at Pitt-Greensburg

Stephen Huba
73679Cabinet
Five members of Gov. Tom Wolf’s cabinet prepare to answer questions at Monday’s “Cabinet in Your Community” event at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg. They are (from left) Veterans Affairs Adjutant General Tony Carrelli, Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith, acting State Police Commissioner Robert Evanchick and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell. (Stephen Huba | Tribune-Review)

Concerns about fracking and an ongoing opioid crisis dominated an event Monday that put Western Pennsylvanians in touch with members of Gov. Tom Wolf’s cabinet.

The state needs to do more to reduce the stigma of medication-assisted treatment and to engage the support of law enforcement, said Kelley Lord, a counselor at MedMark Treatment Center in Greensburg.

“I have watched lives changed. We need to be more receptive to this treatment,” Lord said.

Local law enforcement is skeptical of treatment that combines use of methadone or Suboxone with counseling, Lord said. Officers sometimes wait in the outpatient treatment center’s parking lot for when clients leave an appointment, she said.

“I’ve tried to reach out (to law enforcement) time and time again,” she said.

Lord asked Jennifer Smith, secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, for more state support for medication-assisted treatment.

Smith said the Blue Guardian program in Lehigh County puts police officers in touch with drug addicts after they have overdosed, as a way to get them into treatment. But, she acknowledged, such programs are not widespread in Pennsylvania.

Smith was one of five members of Wolf’s cabinet to attend the “Cabinet in Your Community” event at University of PittsburghGreensburg.

Others were Dennis Davin, secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development; Lt. Col. Robert Evanchick, acting state police commissioner; Tony Carrelli, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs adjutant general; and Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

A woman from Pleasant Hills asked Smith why there isn’t more drug prevention education in schools, why there is a lack of drug policy coordination at the local level and why parents of drug addicts can’t get medical information for children who are over 18.

Smith said Pennsylvania’s medical privacy law is more strict than HIPAA, as is the state code section dealing specifically with substance abuse records.

“We need to continue to have a discussion about whether or not that regulation still has a place,” she said.

Washington County pediatrician and activist Ned Ketyer asked McDonnell whether he was familiar with the latest report by Physicians for Social Responsibility on the public health threat posed by hydraulic fracturing.

“We are absolutely looking at the health impacts of this and working hard to understand it better,” McDonnell said.

Last week, the state DEP and state Department of Health released long-awaited reports that concluded, without much fanfare, that development of the Marcellus shale has posed few public health risks.

Ann LeCuyer, of Trafford, asked McDonnell why DEP grants permits to gas operators that have had previous violations.

“If we have a violation of a permit, our first goal … is to get that facility back into compliance and work with them on that,” McDonnell said. “It’s very rare that we have a permit ban. That’s only where legally we can show willful violations on an ongoing basis.”

Seven of 10 questions came from audience members. The other three were asked by Erin Molchany, director of the Governor’s Southwest Regional Office, who moderated Monday’s event — the 25th time one has been held since Wolf started the initiative last year.

The first “Cabinet in Your Community” was held in November in Luzerne County. The next one will be Aug. 14 in York.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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