Com­mu­ni­ties unite to fight opi­oid epi­demic

The Review - - Opinion -

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 Aug. 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 and­make 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. Speak- ers 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.

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