Pogo's often quoted lament, "We have met the enemy and it is us" is certainly applicable to the area's drug crisis.
Who is responsible for the addictions, lives lost, street crime, organized crime, incarcerations, revolving prison doors broken families, a federal war on drugs, addicted generations, poor parenting, over-prescribed drugs, designer drugs, foreign wars, porous borders...? Is there no end? Is it time for a change?
State Rep. Doyle Heffley thinks it is time for a change that telling kids to "Just say No" hasn't and isn't going to cut it. He feels that changes are needed at all levels from the grassroots family, to the health service providers, to the government and the time is now.
On Thursday, April 18 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lehighton Area High School, 1 Indian Lane in Lehighton, Heffley is inviting the community to a Carbon County Drug & Alcohol Awareness Expo the first ever in the county. Everyone is urged to attend. There will be activities for kids, supervised by Penn State Extension, and light refreshments will be available.
"I want people to be aware of what's out there, what the problems are in the community, and what some of the solutions could be," said Rep. Heffley (R-Carbon 122nd Legislative District). "We put together an expo, similar to our Senior Expo, except this expo will be focused on drug and alcohol awareness."
"What we are seeing throughout pretty much in every community in Carbon County, also throughout the state and the nation, is an uptick in issues related to prescription drugs and controlled substances," he explained. "The drugs that are out there, whether they be OxyContin, Percocet or others are much more potent than pain pills were a few years ago. Opiate addiction has become a big issue whether they be teenagers, middle-age folks, or senior citizens, this addiction runs across all age groups.
"Alcohol is still the number one addictive drug in Pennsylvania," he added.
Although DUI's are most often due to excessive alcohol consumption, Heffley notes, "Local law enforcement tells me that 20 percent of the DUIs are not for alcohol but for drugs, and two years ago, a Jim Thorpe police officer was run over by an operator under the influence of prescription drugs. It is a public safety issue."
Heffley stresses that change begins with awareness, and he has invited four experts in the field of drug and alcohol issues to make presentations and, as time allows, answer questions from the public.
The speakers are: Tammi Burke, supervisor of client resources at the Victims Resource Center; Deb Beck, drug & alcohol consultant and president of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of PA; Judge Steven T. O'Neill, Montgomery County judge; and Jaime Drake, primary counselor at the Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug & Alcohol Commission. Also from the commission will be Dr. James Greenfield with the Suboxone program.
Burke will discuss abusive relationships and drugs, Beck will tell people how drug problems spread through families, and Drake will illustrate where kids often hide drugs using a "mock bedroom exhibit."
One item which may be a game changer will be Judge O'Neill's talk on "drug courts." Numerous counties in Pennsylvania have adopted drug courts as an alternative to incarceration.
"Our county prison has a 94 percent rate of recidivism," Heffley said. "The majority of those folks are in for drug-related crimes. We need to look at ways of getting people into treatment rather than just lockups. People who commit crimes need to be in jail, don't get me wrong, but we need to also look at the root of the problem, and a lot of that is addiction issues, and figure out ways to combat that."
Heffley explained, "In drug courts, you have one court, one judge, and they primarily deal with defendants with drug related issues: addiction issues, possession issues, or drug-related theft issues.
"The sentencing guidelines may be to a type of treatment facility an alternative to prison. They get put on parole and have to go through random drug testing and there has to be a treatment option for that individual. As long as they follow through treatment and the other guidelines with the drug testing, and checking in with a parole officer, they will lessen their sentence."
"What we really want to do is bring awareness to the public," Heffley said. "This expo is skewed towards parents, grandparents, community leaders, people who were in education profession, and anyone who wants to get involved in their community. We invite them to come out and listen."
In the building's lobby will be tables and exhibits staffed by drug and alcohol awareness-related service organizations. These exhibitors will answer questions and help to make recommendations about available services.
For information call representative Heffley's office at (610) 377-6363.