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Experts on addiction crisis share their insights

Written by Rose James/The Punxsutawney Spirit | Jul 23, 2018 7:00 AM
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Newsrooms across the commonwealth have spent years documenting the opioid crisis in their own communities. But now, in the special project State of Emergency: Searching for Solutions to Pennsylvania's Opioids Crisis, we are marshalling resources to spotlight what Pennsylvanians are doing to try to reverse the soaring number of overdose deaths.

WITF is releasing more than 60 stories, videos and photos throughout July. This week, you will find stories about education, prevention and community support.

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Heidi Wyandt, 27, holds a handful of her medication bottles at the Altoona Center for Clinical Research in Altoona, Pa., on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Post)

 

Talking to someone struggling with addiction is the first step in any process to recovery, those on the front lines of the opioids problem agree.

They shared insights during a town hall sponsored by the Sykesville Lion's Club. Many in the audience were searching for information on drug rehabilitation and ways family members can encourage friends or coworkers to seek help.

Janie Braid of the Clearfield Jefferson Drug and Alcohol Commission briefed the crowd on youth trends her office sees.

"Why teens are more at a risk for addiction is because their brain hasn't been fully developed and the frontal lobe, which helps with the decision-making process. They don't process information the same way we do as adults," Braid said. She added that the brain isn't fully developed until someone is 24 years of age.

Braid said many factors go into the development of a child with the environment for which they live being a major factor. She also said there could be genetic traits that run in the family with addiction.

Braid said parents need to recognize the signs of abuse and help they children stray away from drug and alcohol use by recognizing their children for positive behavior and allowing them to take risks that have positive results.

Carol Jackson, also from the Drug and Alcohol Commission, outlined programs for those facing addiction.

She included the state's Warm Hand Off Program.

"Because of the Warm Hand Off, we have initiated an on-call system; the hospital emergency rooms and the crisis unit has the number for them. So, the goal is that anyone who has had an overdose and goes to the ER, they can call us, and we can get them into a treatment facility or a rehab facility."

More: Follow-up to "warm handoffs" is helping overdose patients stay in recovery

County detective Jeff Lee said the county has a 15-member team of law enforcement officers who dedicate time to keeping drugs off the streets.

"We rely on the information to come to us," Lee said, noting, " Contrary to popular belief, we just can't go in there and type in a secret password that gives us access to everyone's social media accounts. But that is how they are getting in touch with each other and it is happening really quickly."

"If you see a house that has traffic coming in and out at all hours of the day, seven days a week, chances are pretty good something is going on," Lee said. "What do you do? Call the local authorities. A lot of times, people won't get involved."

Lee said anyone can contact his office with information, and it will be kept confidential.

Jefferson County Coroner Brenda Shumaker discussed how her office is working to monitor drug use and report opioids.

"Most opioid overdoses can be linked to the initial prescription," Shumaker said. "It is very important for us to realize that when we are issued a prescription, to be mindful how we use it and to monitor ourselves and our loved ones who are taking the drug."

Annette Town, service coordinator for the Jefferson County Area Agency on Aging, covered opioid issues with senior citizens.

"One is substance abuse; they are more likely to be prescribed opiates, and they are more likely, due to their work history, to be drawn towards those avenues. Prescription opioids are on the rise in our older adults.

"Also, the symptoms of opioid addiction mirror other symptoms like dementia and depression, so people don't recognize the symptoms of addiction," Town said.

She said anyone suspecting an older person may have an addiction can call the Area Agency on Aging for help.

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