Solutions to the epidemic of drug abuse in Pike County, Pa. are being forged by a gathering of minds, from diverse groups and persons, with the common cause to save a growing populace from death by overdose.

PIKE COUNTY - Solutions to the epidemic of drug abuse in Pike County, Pa. are being forged by a gathering of minds, from diverse groups and persons, with the common cause to save a growing populace from death by overdose.

The County of Pike is facilitating this effort through the Carbon Monroe Pike Drug & Alcohol Commission, known as the Single County Authority (SCA). This agency is working with the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, with is assisting counties at no charge statewide in developing a strategic plan to reduce the number of opioid overdoses.
The first gathering of this local task force was held at the Pike County Training Center, September 27. From this initial discussion, a working and organized structure of subcommittees, goals and objectives will be developed to combat the epidemic with strength in numbers and shared resources.

Grim statistics

Statistics reveal the problem, in cold, impersonal numbers. Behind those figures, however, are very personal stories of heartache and tragedy, of struggle for victims and their families. The losses do not reveal the successes, those on the way or achieving recovery, some of whom have turned to help others to find a better path.

In Pike County during 2016, there were 10 people that died from an overdose, up by three from 2015. Six of those deaths in 2016 were from taking heroin, according to PA Coroner/Medical Examiner data. Other drugs present in their systems were ethanol, fentanyl, alprazolam, diazepam, clonazepam, cocaine and oxycodone.

Jamie Drake, Executive Director the SCA, said that there was an effort about two years ago to start a task force for Pike County. Hope for Pike was interested in facilitating it, but more stakeholders were desired by the University of Pittsburgh.
Separate strategic plans and task forces were organized for Carbon and Monroe.

Having the technical assistance of the University, she said, helps to give the group focus and tools to achieve their goals, rather than only talking about the problems and not accomplishing anything.

Helps to organize

Marco Pugliese, U. of Pittsburgh, said they have been working with Carbon and Monroe for six or seven months. They are currently working with 41 counties. They started in the western part of the state, and more counties have bene requesting help. Their Technical Assistance Center will assess the county’s situation, develop a vision and strategic plan, and help the counties to implement the goals. Evaluation of efforts is also provided.

Among the stakeholders that get involved are health professionals, public safety- such as courts, prison, probation and the district attorney’s office; emergency responders and community agencies and members. The last group might include schools, religious leaders, persons in recovery, family members and political figures.

Open lines of communication will be necessary. Data collected will be provided to the University to be standardized and handed back. An example would be how many doses of Naloxone were administered to overdose victims, broken down by gender and age groups, and whether they were combative.

Data can help when applying for grants, the University can assist in the application process.

He said it takes them three weeks to organize a strategic plan and send it back to the task force for editing and comments. Subcommittees are then formed, which will focus on certain goals.

The University helps to “connect the dots” across the state and help share what program worked well in one county, or what didn’t work, which can benefit the planning in another county.

One example is someone who might want to starts a Vivitrol program in the jail. The University will show where this has been done, and what steps were taken, what obstacles had to be overcome.

They offer workshops on such areas as addressing stigma, use of Nalaxone and physician education.
A website is available for the counties to access data.

They work together with many federal and state agencies, and facilitates information sharing and technical assistance for local agencies.

Jamie Drake said the SCA just recently was allocated $324,000 of $26 million the state received, to fight the opioid epidemic. They have till April to use the funding. The strategic plan will help them discern how to use the money.

Emergency hotline

Rubber bracelets are being distributed in the three counties, that remind the wearer that recovery from addiction is possible. Inside the bracelet is the Carbon Monroe Pike Drug & Alcohol Commission SCA’s toll-free phone number which one may call to get help.

Three staff members man the phone. Someone needing emergency detox can call the number, or the they may be redirected to get the help that they need. The bracelet is violet, with yellow lettering.

Pike County does not have its own emergency detox center, said Chris Sorrentino, of the SCA. They contract with centers in other counties; the closest is in East Stroudsburg. He stated that they work on finding a “bed” although there is no guarantee it will be close by. About 85% to 90% are placed within a 24-hour period.

If there is no bed available and the person is deemed to be at high risk, the SCA will recommend going to a hospital Emergency Room.

Less than 10% of the people in need will turn a “bed” down, Sorrentino said. Even if it’s three days out, they accept the placement. “They know a date - an end date to all this madness in their life,” Sorrentino said. “They are following through. A small percentage won’t.”

Jamie Drake said they are hoping to hire a Certified Recovery Support Specialist to assist a person who has been through a recovery program, to develop skills, find a job or housing if needed. The specialist helps the person develop a plan.

Long haul

They are looking at what the SCA can do to reduce overdose deaths. “You hear all the things we have done as an SCA, all the things that the state has done, and despite all that, between 2015 and 2016, we lost a thousand more souls to overdose deaths,” Sorrentino said. “So, this is not something that is going away very easily. It has to be a multi-prong approach. We can’t focus all on one goal.”

They will look at short range goals and what they can build upon, he said. “This is a walk, this is not a sprint. We’re not going to fix everything within one month, three months, six months,” he said. “This is going to take time.”

It has taken a lot of time to reach where we are today, Sorrentino pointed out. It was the early 1990’s that they started seeing opioids being prescribed at an enormous rate. Middle aged adults are being impacted and require education; it’s not only the youth. Heroin was a big concern; then it was heroin laced with fentanyl. Now it’s just fentanyl- which is more potent, he said.

All of this has to be kept in mind as they develop goals, Sorrentino said. Jamie Drake said they will bring their recovery specialist to Pike to talk about the stigma survey she will be heading. Drake said most everyone knows someone impacted by drugs, but a stigma exists and it can be hard to get people to come out and talk.

“We need to get people to speak out about their recovery,” Drake said. “Be proud about where they are and what they have become in life.”

Concerns raised from the audience are the needs for transportation; training police in sensitivity towards overdose victims needing Naloxone; spreading stories of recovery on social media and emphasizing “harm reduction” - providing clean needles to those not yet ready to call out for help.

Help is available

Drake said she is trying to spread the message that anyone could become addicted, and help is available if they do. One of the biggest challenges is letting the public know how to get help, what number to call.

Help is available in PIKE COUNTY by calling the Carbon Monroe Pike Drug & Alcohol Commission SCA’s toll-free phone number. That number is 1-866-824-3578.

In WAYNE COUNTY, call the Wayne County Drug & Alcohol Commission at 570-253-6022.