County commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding Tuesday between the county and the Centre County Coalition Against Overdoses in a show of support for the recently formed organization.
Representatives from the coalition spoke before the Board of Commissioners, providing statistics on drug use in the state and county, and outlining the future goals of the organization.
The coalition includes several county entities, including the coroner’s office, mental health/early intervention/drug and alcohol, Children and Youth Services, district attorney’s office and probation and parole office, said criminal justice planning department Director Gene Lauri. Also included are law enforcement entities, including Ferguson Township police, and Mount Nittany Health.
“Our coalition is in its formative stages,” Lauri said, adding that the coalition grew out of a drug overdose committee formed in late 2015, “and seeks to eliminate substance abuse, drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths in the county.”
The nation is in the midst of an epidemic of opiate addiction and overdoses, he said. Deaths from prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999, and overdose deaths have tripled in the past five years nationwide. Drug overdose deaths have also become the leading cause of injury death in the U.S., surpassing traffic accidents and firearms.
Pennsylvania ranks ninth in the nation in drug overdose deaths, he said, coming in at about 19 deaths per 100,000 people in the state.
“Prescription painkiller and heroin addictions affect people of all ages, races and geographic locations,” he said. “One of the points we want to make today is anyone can become addicted. Anyone who may be prescribed a painkiller can become addicted if improperly used or used for too long.”
Drug and alcohol program administrator Cathy Arbogast said the county continues to see “dramatic” increases in the number of individuals seeking services. More than half of these individuals report heroin or opiates as their drug of choice, compared to 27 percent who list alcohol.
“Over the last 15 years, alcohol was always, by far, the leading substance in this county,” Arbogast said. “We may not be seeing as dramatic numbers as some of our counterparts in the western part of the state or the large cities, but in Centre County, numbers are growing exponentially.
We need to do what we can to get folks aware that this is a problem, to begin changing their behaviors early on, but also providing individual access to treatment.
Centre County drug and alcohol program administrator Cathy Arbogast
“We need to do what we can to get folks aware that this is a problem,” she said, “to begin changing their behaviors early on, but also providing individual access to treatment.”
The drug and alcohol office is working with treatment providers to expand the availability of detox and rehabilitation spaces, she said, while staff is becoming savvy at making contacts to provide users with immediate access to these services.
First Assistant District Attorney Mark Smith said that District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller will be submitting a grant application this week for six medical collection boxes to be placed in public buildings, including the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte and the police departments of State College, Ferguson Township and Patton Township.
A box is already available at the Bellefonte police department, he said. Anyone wishing to dispose of unused or expired medication can leave it in these boxes to be disposed of properly, freeing the county water systems or landfills of the medication.
Smith also reminded the commissioners that state law gives individuals certain immunities to prosecution if they come upon someone experiencing an overdose if they call for help and remain with the person.
Hopefully, instead of leaving (an overdosing) person behind, they will take steps to get the person help.
First Assistant District Attorney Mark Smith
“Hopefully,” he said, “instead of leaving the person behind, they will take steps to get the person help.”
More information regarding heroin and opiate laws and prevention can be found through the Centre County website at http://centrecountypa.gov. Visitors can access pastop.org — part of the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance Campaign to Stop Opiate Abuse — county drug and alcohol services, and information on contacting 911 if you see an overdose and on the state’s Good Samaritan Law.