The opioid epidemic has been relentless in communities throughout Pennsylvania in recent years. According to the state Department of Health, at least 10 Pennsylvanians die of opioid or heroin overdose each day.
And Centre County hasn't escaped its wrath. Last year saw 14 opioid overdose deaths, but 2018 is on track to "far exceed" that number, Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said. There have already been 11 confirmed opioid overdose deaths this year and two more are pending, he said.
That's why the DA's office and the Centre County HOPE — Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education — Initiative have partnered to put on two town halls next month to educate the public on what they can do to combat the crisis.
"In order to address the issue, education and prevention are key," Cantorna said. "It's important to educate the public and make them aware of resources and how to prevent addiction in the first place."
The fight against opioid addiction starts at the community level, he said, which is why organizations like the HOPE Initiative are so important.
Attendees will have the opportunity to speak with local officials about addiction prevention and also how to help loved ones who are struggling. The town halls will include several presentations followed by a Q&A session.
Pennsylvania had the fourth highest rate of death due to drug overdose in the United States in 2016 at 37.9 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. West Virginia had the highest rate at 52 deaths per 100,000 people. Opioids were the main driver of U.S. drug overdose deaths with 42,249 in 2016, which was five times higher than in 1999.
However, a recent University of Pittsburgh study reports that the number of opioid overdose deaths in the United States could be drastically higher than what's been recorded.
“Potentially 70,000 opioid-related, unintentional overdose deaths from 1999 through 2015 have been missed because of incomplete reporting, indicating that the opioid overdose epidemic may be worse than it appears,” researchers wrote in the Public Health Reports journal.
The first town hall will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. July 17 at the Philipsburg Middle School auditorium. The second will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. July 31 at the American Philatelic Society in Bellefonte.