Communities unite to fight opioid epidemic
The theme of unity is a common message in this space. We urge our elected officials, citizens, and our readers to get past what divides us and join efforts that aim for civility and, yes, greatness in our towns, our commonwealth and our country.
On August 31, many in our communities heeded that call and announced a united front against an insidious threat in these suburbs.
Officials in government, law enforcement and health care joined to pledge a fight against the opioid epidemic in our counties, standing together on International Opioid Overdose Awareness Day to remember lives lost to drug overdose and to acknowledge the epidemic that continues to devastate families.
In Montgomery County, Commissioners Val Arkoosh, Ken Lawrence and Joe Gale stood on the courthouse steps with District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and other law enforcement and county officials to remember victims of the 249 overdose deaths in Montgomery County last year.
They also pledged to continue the broad countywide effort to stem the tide of this crisis.
“This is a very important day for our friends and family who are mourning the loss of loved ones,” said Arkoosh, “and all of us together as a community to recognize and acknowledge this terrible epidemic that we are fighting every single day.”
One of the greatest problems surrounding this epidemic is stigma, with people too afraid or refusing to get treatment because of the reputation attached to their substance abuse disorder, Arkoosh said.
“This is where everyone of us can step up in our daily lives and make such an important difference,” she said. Substance abuse is “a disease that can be treated but the disease has to be acknowledged and treatment has to be sought. That’s where we come in as a community. We need to surround people with strength and hope and love. Lift them up and encourage them to get help.”
In Chester County, the allvolunteer Pennsylvania Recovery Organization-Achieving Community Together organized “Building Community, Sharing Hope,” an evening of fellowship, hope and stories of survival as well as remembrance. Speakers included a family who lost a son to overdose in January, a 24-year-old with five months of recovery and someone who has been sober for more than 20 years.
In acknowledgement and efforts to combat overdose deaths, Berks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties have been at the forefront, from the implementation by police of the overdose-reversal drug Nalaxone to funds for treatment centers. Facing the opioid crisis head-on with task forces and dollars is an ongoing effort.
“Events like this today put a spotlight on an issue that’s so critical for us to come together as one unit to fix and resolve this issue,” said Commissioner Joe Gale at the Montgomery County event. “You see it with every age group, every gender, every socioeconomic class that suffers from this horrible issue.
And days like this show the families and loved ones that have relatives that suffer with this that we’re there for them, that we support them and it provides that moral support.”
Last year, nearly 20 out of 100,000 people in Chester County died of a drug-related overdose, according to recently released figures by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. In Delaware County, nearly 37 out of 100,000 people died, and in Montgomery County, nearly 29 out of 100,000 people died.
In the face of those statistics, the fight goes on in earnest.
Earlier this year, Chester County’s hospitals received a $25,000 boost to help combat the opioid and heroin crisis.
“We want to fix this problem, not save one at a time,” said Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan.
That begins with acknowledgement across communities to get past shame and provide treatment, to avoid denial and promote understanding, and to take steps necessary in our homes and hospitals to control access to opioids.
Ironically, we got to this point with drugs to relieve pain. Now, the pain they have created demands an all-out war to control.
This is a war that demands we be united as a community, united in acknowledgement and efforts to lift up those among us who need help and united to prevent the access to drugs.
Working together as one is our best hope.