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Schuylkill bands together in drug fight

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    Schuylkill County District Attorney Mike O’Pake greets Ray Barishansky, Deputy Secretary of Health, Pennsylvania, during the Schuylkill County Opioid Summit held Friday. The summit was held at the Schuylkill County Intermediate Unit. LISA PRICE/TIMES NEWS

Published March 02. 2019 06:36AM

One morning, after a horrific storm, hundreds of stranded starfish covered a beach. A young man who came upon the problem began picking up starfish, tossing them one by one back into the ocean.

A couple of morning walkers came upon the scene. Look, they told him, just give up. This problem is so big that what you’re doing doesn’t matter. The young man, holding up a starfish, told the walkers that they were wrong.

“It’ll matter to this one,” he said.

Bill Reiley, assistant district attorney for Schuylkill County’s Drug Treatment Court, told the starfish story. In his remarks, he talked about the successes and challenges of the court, as well as the lessons officials learned from it as they strove to help people transition to a drug-free life.

“If you’re going to have people remember how to take care of themselves, you need a structured program,” Reiley said. “If you’re going to provide an opportunity for people to help themselves, you have to bring multiple disciplines together.”

Throughout Schuylkill County, and the nation, the opioid crisis and all the related criminal issues it perpetuates is a huge problem. An Opioid Summit held Friday morning in Pottsville drew an array of people, educators, police and correctional officers, treatment facilitators, government officials from county and state, people in recovery and family members — mothers, fathers, daughters, sons — who have been devastated by addiction’s cost to their lives. Schuylkill County is loaded with resources; the goal of the summit is to form a coalition to unite those individual efforts.

“We realize the need for a collaborative effort,” said Schuylkill County District Attorney Mike O’Pake, an organizer of the summit. “We all have one overriding goal — to make Schuylkill County safe — and this is the first step in a long road.”

“I will do whatever I can to lessen the impact of drugs in Schuylkill County,” O’Pake said, noting that many school administrators were present. “I want to get into your schools and educate, get people to the treatment providers in Schuylkill County — who are second to none — and as part of enforcement, give people the opportunity to do the right thing.”

“Those three things will help lead to prevention,” he added. He said that forming a coalition is a key to that process.

The formation of a coalition will be overseen by Marco Pugliese, the lead research specialist of the PA Opioid Overdose Reduction Technical Assistance Center. The center will assist Schuylkill County in forming a coalition, help gather data and develop a data-driven strategic plan. The center will also assist in applying for grants and implementing grants.

PA Deputy Secretary of Health Ray Barishansky had some statistics about overdose deaths. He said that nationwide, the OD rate is 16.3 per 100,000, but in Pennsylvania it is 36.5 per 100,000. He said that officials need to coordinate initiatives and continually engage public attention to the problem.

“No one entity can handle all of it, and no one entity wins,” he said. “We must work together for a coalition.”

Representatives from a number of entities contributed to the summit. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:

Todd Zimmerman, Andreas, co-founder of Step Up Tamaqua and Step Up Carbon: “The majority of fentanyl is produced in China, then sold to the drug cartels in Central America and brought into the United States through ports of entry. I think that China is killing Americans, and we should boycott their products.”

Diane Rowland, Schuylkill County Drug & Alcohol prevention services coordinator: “A lot of good work is being done by our county. With a coalition, we can start getting these efforts together.”

Cathy Miorelli, Tamaqua Area School District school nurse, adviser for the school’s Raiders Step Up: “You have to educate yourself, learn about addiction and recovery. I had gone to too many funerals and thought, we’re missing something. Educate yourself, find every avenue you can use and take advantage of them.”

Melissa Kaylan, director, Schuylkill County Drug & Alcohol, Warm Handoff Policy in Schuylkill County. The “warm handoff” program strives to get a person who has overdosed into a recovery program: “We have a crisis response, and we have been developing an on-call network for response after business hours, and on holidays. We will roll that out to hospitals soon.”

Alicia Fleischut, director, Clinical Outcomes Group Inc.: “We are seeing clients stay in treatment longer, which is a very positive sign.”

Travis Snyder, SKOOK Recovery: “I’m a person in long-term recovery. We seek connection, a place of belonging. The opportunities must outweigh the obstacles.”

Tammy Sienkiewicz, Safer Streets for Tamaqua’s Little Feet: “Our daughter (Alex) died from an overdose April 2, 2016. We didn’t know what to look for, I didn’t even know you could die from an overdose. Education is the key — teach the signs of substance abuse and where to find available resources.”

Loren Collura, Hope and Coffee, Tamaqua: “We work to destigmatize. And we also provide a safe place to hand out, find support groups, gain skills and get back into the community.”

Shawn McGinley, Clinical Outcomes Group Inc.: “Many people (struggling with addiction) have burned bridges, with their friends, with their family. If they get some support from someone, it means the world to them.”

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