The effects of opioid addiction have been felt by every community in the country, including ours. Americans consume 80 percent of the global opioid supply, according to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. Addiction does not favor the poor over the rich. It treats all classes of society equally. We are fortunate in Centre County that the epidemic has not taken as deep a hold as it has in neighboring communities, but that doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye. In talking about the issue with friends, neighbors and relatives, it doesn’t take long to find someone who has a personal story about a friend or family member to tell. Opioid and heroin addiction can tear a community apart. On the flip side, communities can band together to educate, prevent and stop it from taking hold. As members of the community we all have a responsibility to help in that capacity.
Addictions tear apart families and marriages. Addicts “borrow” or steal from family members, pawn their valuables, lie and give excuses for needing cash that ends up only in a drug buy. As they become more desperate, the next step could be turning to robbery and worse. Heroin and opiates are being used by our college and even high school students, a reality so very hard to believe or accept. When are we going to get serious and face this problem and recognize education and awareness need to start earlier than we ever imagined?
President Barack Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016 on July 22. The bill aims to address the nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction. The president had asked for more than $1 billion in funding for the bill. The bill authorizes $181 million in funding for new programs to address the crisis. Obama and congressional Democrats say the funding will not go far enough; however, the president signed the bill, saying, “Given the scope of this crisis, some action is better than none.”
The state is taking on the issue too. Recently bills have been passed that aim to make it more difficult for doctors to prescribe longtime dosages of opiates and for those receiving the prescriptions to abuse the medication. Locally, town hall discussions have been held to increase education and awareness of opioid abuse and how easily one can become an addict. There are also prescription drop-off boxes stationed across the county that help get unused medications off the street.
Education and discussion are key to the prevention of addiction and to stopping its spread. They are not enough, however; treatment is critical in helping those addicted. Methadone and suboxone are two drugs being used at clinics to help treat addicts. The clinics administer these drugs legally to those who are able to afford the help. If an addict’s income is low enough, Medical Assistance will cover the cost. If someone makes too much money for Medicaid but can’t afford private health insurance, the treatment is out of reach.
Methadone and suboxone are not ideal answers — they don’t cure the addiction, but they can make it manageable, thus enabling addicts to return to their homes and their jobs. Until a better treatment option is available, these clinics need to be available and affordable to all who need the help. The help must also be offered to incarcerated addicts, otherwise, the time served will have no impact on solving the problem.
Limited funding is a real concern when it comes to prevention. Many communities have downsized or eliminated local police departments to cut costs. The lack of local law enforcement has left many residents feeling that more needs to be done to keep drug activity off the streets. This is where communities can band together to help tackle the issue. In Osceola Mills, for example, a Neighborhood Watch group has formed. Cameras and reporting strategies are in place for those who witness drug activity in the small community. Without such a group, communities such as nearby Philipsburg solely rely on state police for their coverage. While some think a local police presence would deter drug activity on the streets, that solution is not feasible to the communities who do not have the funds for their own departments.
CARA, combined with the bills proposed by the state are a start. Community vigilance and edification are important factors in the fight. But the current level of funding leaves a large gap and will not address the needs of this growing crisis. More funding to make this bill work is needed.
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Medication return boxes
Unused and expired medication can be dropped off at these Centre County locations:
▪ Willowbank Building
420 Holmes St., Bellefonte
8:30 a.m-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
▪ Centre County Sheriff’s Department
213 E. High St., Bellefonte
8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
▪ State College Police Department
243 S. Allen St., State College
8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
▪ Ferguson Township Police Department
3147 Research Drive, State College
8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday
▪ Penn State Police Department
Eisenhower Parking Deck, University Park
Open 24 hours
▪ Bellefonte Police Department
236 W. Lamb St., Bellefonte
8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday
▪ Patton Township Police Department
100 Patton Plaza, State College
8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday