Attack on epidemic envisioned

County residents gather to discuss the opioid crisis

JORDAN SLOBODINSKY/THE EXPRESS Kerith Strano-Taylor asks the 30 or so people who attended a session Tuesday on the opioid crisis to describe what they believe to be specific problems in the community.

LOCK HAVEN — Are physicians too readily prescribing pain killers to patients, thus leading to abuse of the drugs and eventually leading people to use heroin?

That was a central question at a recent town hall-style meeting on opioids and their impact on Clinton County.

An organization known as SPARK — Supporting Public Action and Responsible Knowledge — hosted the event Tuesday at Ross Library.

About 30 members of the community came out to participate. Topics discussed included strengths and weaknesses in the Clinton County area when dealing with opioids, as well as the effects of prescription drugs and their impact on communities and their youth.

Leading the session was Kerith Strano-Taylor, a former candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives and a current Children and Youth employee in Jefferson County. She asked those who gathered to talk about the strengths they believe local communities have when dealing with opioids.

“It’s important that we identify these things. Sitting in this room and coming up with a great idea isn’t useful if we don’t talk about what got mixed up. Tonight is about how we envision attacking this problem,” she said.

Incarceration, shaming, drug treatment court, and coalitions committed to stopping the issue are a few things participants thought are done well here.

The Advocates for a Drug Free Tomorrow, a local group committed to stopping the drug epidemic, was praised for their work in the community. However, Advocates members at the meeting made note that their work alone is not enough, and that the area needs to do more as a community to end the crisis.

In fact, participants suggested one of the biggest factors in ending the crisis is protecting youth. Tim Havener said he placed his daughters in cyber school for many reasons, including the negative impact that opioids could have on them.

“I used to volunteer in Tampa, and this issue is nothing new. It’s been happening for years, but we are just starting to notice because it is affecting white kids,” said Havener about the growth of opioid abuse. “This has been affecting minority communities for years.”

As the list of suggested strengths grew, participants began to notice some of the strengths were actually weaknesses.

“Incarceration, shame, desperation… I mean, this is a scary list. It’s an honest list, but it’s a scary list,” Strano-Taylor said.

Weaknesses seemed easier for the crowd to pinpoint. One participant told her story about her son dying only three days after leaving jail, because there was no medical follow-up after he was released.

The medical side of the problem is a major factor, Strano-Taylor heard.

Havener said he believes there is no proper care in Clinton County for the mentally ill. Others agreed with him and told Strano-Taylor it is difficult to find a psychologist in the area who specializes in helping people with an opioid addiction.

“So are people who are mentally ill using these drugs to self-medicate?” Strano-Taylor asked.

Participants said yes, and facilities that could help the mentally ill always seem to be full.

Mental health patients who abuse the prescriptions given to them from a young age also become part of the problem. Young children are being prescribed drugs to handle ADHD, and ADD, participants said, and this is a huge factor in the process of becoming addicted to opioids.

Some were worried about doctors prescribing pain-killers too readily and writing high numbers of prescriptions. Strano-Taylor cited an incident in which a Pennsylvania doctor prescribed more opioids to his patients in one year than the entire state of Delaware.

Oxycodone, Fentanyl, and Percocet are just a few of the pills identified as key starter drugs to addiction, if taken too often.

“There are many doctors who will prescribe Oxy and Percocet together. That is a problem,” Angela Black said.

The two-hour session resulted in what many described as a positive step for the community.

Strano-Taylor listened to and wrote down the ideas offered, and assured the participants she would send the list out in an email. She also said the list would be sent to politicians and representatives.

Many of the participants hope to meet again at a later date to continue discussing the opioid epidemic.