Substance abuse and addiction is a disease that takes over a person s entire life. It is an epidemic that is sweeping our country and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Carbon County is certainly not immune to the problem.

In an effort to raise awareness about the increasing abuse of drugs and alcohol in the county, especially among our youth, Pennsylvania State Representative Doyle Heffley recently hosted a free Carbon County Drug and Alcohol Awareness Expo at Lehighton Area High School. Nearly 400 people attended the event.

This expo was designed for parents, grandparents, and community leaders to come together with regional and state leaders for an informational event regarding substance abuse awareness and prevention, said Heffley. I hope that it proved to be a very educational event for all residents of the community.

He added, I am glad that Senators David Argall and John Yudichak are also supportive of this event and realize how important it is to all of the residents we represent.

To kick-off the evening, Victims Resource Center Supervisor of Client Services Tammi Burke and Education/Outreach Manager Patrick Rushton presented The Connection Between Child Abuse and Drug and Alcohol Dependency: It s No Coincidence.

Child abuse can be emotional, physical, sexual, and verbal.

Words from childhood can remain in an adult s head, continuing to play like a tape recorder, said Burke.

More than 17,000 volunteers are participating in the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study. While the data continues to be analyzed, it is revealing the connection of the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma.

According to Burke and Rushton, two-thirds of all people in treatment programs for drug and alcohol abuse report that they were in some way abused during childhood.

Unfortunately, society is really big on blaming victims, said Burke.

As a result of child abuse, victims often times engage in unhealthy coping skills, such as eating disorders, self-injury, and drug and alcohol abuse.

"It's so important to find out what s going on in a child s life," said Rushton. "If you have reasonable suspicion of abuse, report it."

VRC provides a wide range of services to men, women, and children who are victims of crime. These services are private, confidential, and free. They include a 24-hour hotline, support groups, counseling, and advocacy for victims. VRC also provides numerous educational programs for students of all ages, professionals, and community groups.

Serving Carbon, Luzerne, and Wyoming Counties, the local office of VRC is located at 616 North Street, second floor, in Jim Thorpe. For more information and / or to report abuse, call 570-325-9641 or 866-206-9050.

Deborah Beck, President and Drug and Alcohol Consultant for Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania, followed with a presentation entitled How to Get Help with Addiction.

According to Beck, one in four families is struggling with someone who has an untreated addiction. Drug and alcohol addictions are progressive (always fatal) diseases, if they go unchecked.

"Although Pennsylvania has laws concerning addiction treatment," Beck claims, "We re in terrible shape! The problem is in enforcing those laws. Insurers break the law every day with their cunning to get around the laws.

The estimated annual cost of cleaning up AFTER untreated addicts is $14 billion in Pennsylvania, $328 billion nationwide. That s the annual price tag of denial.

According to Beck, alcohol is the leading drug of abuse. Prescription abuse is number two.

"If you think something is going on, it probably is," advises Beck. "Trust your instincts."

Throughout her 42-year career, Beck has never met a voluntary admission for treatment. However, recovery is highly likely. About five years out, addicts usually don t fall back. It's the same as cancer relapse, said Beck.

Honorable Judge Steven T. O Neill of Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania discussed Importance of Drug Courts.

"Addiction is a relapsing disorder of the brain," said O Neill. "It's not a moral choice."

According to O Neill, 80 percent of all crime is committed by drug addicts. If you want to reduce crime, your county should start a drug court.

"Kick-butt judges don t work. Neither do kiss-butt judges," said O Neill. "Drug court is not a hug-a-thug court."

O Neill has presided over drug court in Montgomery County since its inception in 2006. Drug courts have been around for 21 years and treat the disease for not less than 15 months up to 30 months. O Neill insists that short-term treatment does not work. Long-term does.

Recidivism (the percentage of former prisoners who are re-arrested) is normally about 65 percent. With a drug court, it is 20 percent. In addition, it costs approximately $20,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner. It costs $8,000 to treat an addict.

According to O Neill, If you want better ROI (return on investment) drug court works!

Priorities of drug court are treatment; participation in a 12-step program; accountability with frequent random screening; employment; and a comprehensive team working on each participant with a collaborative approach.

Currently, there are 30 drug courts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. "We need 67, one in each county," said O Neill. He offered to meet with Carbon County Commissioners Wayne Nothstein, Tom Gerhard, and William O'Gurek to help start one in the county.

According to O Neill, there are federal grants available to start a drug court. Often times, 510-C-3 non-profit corporations are formed to keep them operating.

"Every day, people are dying of this disease," concluded O Neill. "The death of any addict is a tragedy."

Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission Primary Counselor Jamie Drake introduced Suboxone Program Physician Dr. James Greenfield to discuss Current Opiate Trends.

"Substance addiction is a disease. It forever changes the receptors in the brain," said Greenfield. "These receptors never go back to normal. It is a disease that you will have for the rest of your life."

Greenfield treats addicts with Suboxone, a short-term narcotic medication used to treat opiate dependency without the usual withdrawal symptoms associated with chemical dependency.

Summing up, Greenfield said, "It's time we eliminate the just tell 'em to stop mentality that we have toward addicts."

To end the evening, Drake introduced Certified Recovery Specialist Jennifer Mustacchio. A CRS is a recovering individual who helps others on a peer-to-peer basis gain access to needed resources in the community by assisting them in overcoming barriers and helping them bridge gaps between their needs and available resources.

"My 35 months in a federal prison was the best thing that ever happened to me," said Mustacchio. "I didn't want to be an addict. I just didn't know how to live differently."

She stressed the importance of changing the people, places, and things in a person s life in order to help with addiction recovery.

"I'm a work in progress. I have a lot to give and share," summed up Mustacchio. "Now, I give back to my county. I m here to tell you that there IS hope!"

In addition to Heffley, Alpine Bakery; Blue Mountain Ski Area; Elk Lighting; Lehighton Area School District; St. Luke s Hospital Miners Campus; Utz Snacks; Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services, Inc.; and Zimmerman s Dairy sponsored this inaugural Carbon County Drug and Alcohol Awareness Expo.

Organizations participating in the expo included Al-Anon; Alateen presented by Faith Alive Church; Senator David Argall s Office; Blue Mountain Health System; Carbon County Sheriff s Office; Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission; Carbon-Monroe-Pike Mental Health and Developmental Services; Care Net of Carbon County; Celebrate Recovery presented by Blue Mountain Community Church; Clearbrook Treatment Centers; Fire Tree Ltd. / Conewago; Jim Thorpe Community Watch; Jim Thorpe National Night Out; Jim Thorpe Police Department; Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC) / SHINE Program; Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch

Lehighton Police Department; Mount Pocono Medical; PA Treatment & Healing (PATH); Penn State Extension; Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board; Pennsylvania State Police; Pyramid Healthcare; Pyramid Sports Performance Center; St. Luke s Hospital Miners Campus; The Salvation Army; Summit Hill Police Department; Teen Challenge; Valley Forge Medical Center; Victims Resource Center; White Deer Run; Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services, Inc.; and Senator John Yudichak s Office.

Retired National Hockey League player and current scout for the Chicago Blackhawks Dennis Bonvie greeted fans and signed autographs. He also challenged the youth in attendance to sign a pledge to be drug and alcohol free.

In addition, the expo featured a mock teen bedroom exhibit to show parents, grandparents, and guardians what signs to look for in order to spot possible drug and alcohol abuse. Guests could also drop off their unused prescription drugs ,with no questions asked.

Drug-free mascots Ryland and Willoughby were on-hand. There were also coordinated activities for children and refreshments available.

With the support of the community, Heffley plans to offer the Carbon County Drug and Alcohol Awareness Expo as a free annual event.

"It is my hope that individuals left with more knowledge on drug and alcohol prevention, awareness, and resources that are available to individuals who struggle with addictions," said Heffley. "Together, we can make our community more aware of the drug and alcohol challenges we face in today's society."