Last week I gave you the basics of heroin. A “Heroin 101” if you will. But much like talking to your kids about drugs, one discussion isn’t enough. There is so much involved in the heroin epidemic, I couldn’t get it all in one article. So here we are – another week, another perspective.
According to District Attorney Eric Linhardt, Pennsylvania has the 3rd most heroin users in the country behind California and Illinois. This has led to increase in addiction, crime, overdose, violence, homelessness and death. The heroin epidemic is, unfortunately, not unique to Williamsport, Lycoming County or even Pennsylvania. Cities and towns across the country are dealing with the same issue. There isn’t a county across Pennsylvania that is immune to the problem. The question becomes, how do we stop it?
Linhardt said, “We cannot address this problem solely from a law enforcement perspective. If we are going to get a handle, as a community, on the heroin problem, we also have to address it from a treatment perspective, and more importantly we have to address it from a perspective of intervening with our young people to keep them from moving to heroin in the first place.”
The number of people who start out abusing prescription opiates and move on to heroin, is staggering. So much of the education about heroin has to start with the education about prescription drugs. Kids and parents alike are falling victim to the misconception that prescription drugs are safe, or ok to abuse, because they were prescribed or are legal, but every day, 2,500 kids abuse prescription drugs for the first time. 1 in 6 parents mistakenly believe that abusing prescription drugs is safer than using street drugs, but this is simply not the case.
So where are kids finding these prescription drugs? Most of them are finding them at home. They are abusing the pills they are finding in their parents and loved ones medicine cabinets. 75% of people who abuse prescription pain relievers say they got them from friends or relatives.
Because of this, Linhardt stressed the importance of properly disposing of unused medications. Lycoming County is home to a Prescription Medication Return Program. According to Linhardt this provides a way to “educate the community and gives them a safe, anonymous, environmentally friendly way to dispose of unused medication.” There are 7 of these boxes located locally, including in all local police departments and the sheriff’s office. You can drop off almost any medication, including pet medication in the boxes. Anything other than IV drugs.
So how can you know if your kids are abusing drugs? Talk to your kids. All. The. Time. Know them, know their friends, know their friends’ parents. Know what they are doing online. Do all the things that will drive your kids crazy and make them call you nosey. The more you know about your kids and their lives, the more quickly you will notice when something isn’t right. Picking up on those queues that are telling you that something is different or wrong, may be the queues that save your child’s life.
If you suspect that a loved one is using drugs, please reach out for help. We have great treatment programs available in the city. Reach out to whomever you feel most comfortable talking to, whether that is someone at a professional facility, or a clergy member that can help direct you. West Branch Drug and Alcohol will be happy to help you get in touch with the proper service provider.
Five years ago the county saw very few heroin cases. Now, as much as 30% of the arraignments being held are related to heroin in one way or another. They are there because they were caught shoplifting to support their habits, or committing burglary to support a habit, or were caught in possession of heroin or heroin paraphernalia.
This increase was part of what led to the creation of the Lycoming County Narcotics Enforcement Unit. According to Linhardt, the County agreed to fund five full-time narcotics enforcement officers, and they are supplemented by two full-time officers from the Williamsport Bureau of Police. They are working as a seven man team to supplement the Troop F vice unit. So right now there are more officers in our county dedicated to narcotics enforcement than we have ever had in the history of Lycoming County. All of these officers are dedicated to getting drugs off the streets of our county and city.
The county has also spent a significant amount of drug forfeiture money to expand the camera projects in the city. This allows law enforcement to have more eyes on the city. These cameras act as a deterrent to crime, and also aid officers in investigations. The county and city is also working closely with local Neighborhood Watch groups to gather information about the drug problem in the city. No one knows when something is out of place in a neighborhood better than the neighbors.
If you know that there is drug activity happening in your neighborhood, call the police. Your anonymity will be respected and they will use that information to gather their own intelligence needed to further their investigation.
Another step being taken in the city is Judge Nancy Butts’ formation of the Heroin Task Force.
According to Butts one of the things that was decided by the task force is that the keys to stopping the heroin epidemic are education, prevention, treatment and law enforcement. So, from law enforcement, to clergy members, to business owners, to those in our schools, to city residents that want to do something to help their community, this task force is made up of a variety of members and leaders of our community.
The task force is broken down into many subcommittees, including education, faith based, treatment, business, youth, research and information, and law enforcement. So each subcommittee works to address the heroin issue from their respective areas of knowledge.
According to Butts, “Addiction is a disease of isolation, and bringing people to the table sheds light on it and now you are no longer isolated.” It makes it more difficult to hide from the realities of what heroin does and what prescription drug abuse does. The task force is working together to bring all aspects of abuse, treatment and prevention to the forefront of our community. If you would like to get involved with the Task Force, there is an open meeting Friday, March 28th at 8 p.m. in the juror’s lounge at the county courthouse.
Butts echoed Linhardt’s sentiments that education is the key to prevention. She encourages everyone to talk to their children about the dangers of drugs. She also agreed that the best way to talk to your kids is early, often and directly. Ask your kids outright if other kids are talking about drugs in school. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but the more you have them, the easier they become. If your child is used to having these talks with you, they will be more likely to come to you if they are ever offered drugs. It’s also a good idea to talk to your kids about what their response would be if they were offered drugs or alcohol.
Drug addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as such, and Butts touted the treatment programs available in the city. Those who are already in the justice system are able to participate in programs within the county prison, including 12 Step and other counseling programs or if they qualify, they could be placed in an inpatient treatment program. Butts also meets with people herself as part of the Drug Court system. Butts has been the Drug Court judge for 16 years.
There is also hope of implementing a Day Reporting/Training Center where people can get help, not only with addiction issues, but also with job training and educational programs.
For those who aren’t a part of the justice system, Butts, like Linhardt, spoke highly of the services available through West Branch Drug and Alcohol.
When asked if she could get one message about heroin abuse out to the community Butts said that she’s “excited that everyone is talking about it. If people are talking about it, it means that people are learning. It’s going to effect you one way or another, so why not know the facts, understand how it can effect you and protect yourself.”
So, here is my bottom line for this week. Communication is key. Education is key. Arm yourself with information and share that information with your kids often. Young adults in their early 20s are at the crux of heroin abuse. Educating adolescents is the best way to cut off heroin abuse at the pass.