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Schuylkill opioid force unites providers

Published June 03. 2019 12:51PM

Already, the fledgling Schuylkill County Opioid Task Force has an accomplishment — uniting local providers, officials and groups.

The task force held its second meeting Friday, at the Lehigh Valley Health Network McCloskey School of Nursing, Pottsville, and came away with the basic foundations for a strategic plan.

The formation of the task force is being facilitated by the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, represented by Marco Pugliese, research specialist. Locally, it will be led by Melissa Kalyan, director of Schuylkill County Drug & Alcohol program.

Pugliese steered the group to www.overdosefreepa.pitt.edu, which includes information about drug use in all state counties. Data for overdose deaths is submitted by county coroners. Pugliese said that if county coroners don’t submit the data voluntarily, the organization obtains it by subpoena, as it did in Schuylkill County.

On the website, overdose deaths are broken down according to type of drug, ZIP code where the overdose occurred, and age and race of the person. Statewide, fentanyl leads in the type of drug linked to overdose deaths, by itself and in combinations.

Pugliese had task force members use three Post-it notes to separately list goals and objectives. The notes were gathered at a front table, where attendees further grouped them by topic. Once the notes were organized, several main topics were identified:

1. Access to treatment providers;

2. Transportation to treatment providers and/or work;

3. “Clean and sober” activities, with community support;

4. Education on drug use;

5. Enforcement.

Kalyan said that there are currently five outpatient facilities in Schuylkill County, with additional providers located near the county’s borders. Also, officials have been working on a “warm handoff,” which sets up a process for getting an overdose victim from a hospital, directly into treatment. The warm handoff program will be launched June 1.

District Attorney Mike O’Pake listed education, treatment and prosecution as three objectives, and added that prosecution should be “necessary and effective.” An aspect of effective prosecution is “bridging the gap from prison to the community,” he said.

Commissioner Gary Hess agreed. Hess said that the Schuylkill Transportation System could be “brought to the table” with the task force, to discuss needed routes.

After the meeting, Hess said that the county is working on setting up a facility where those arrested on drug offenses can receive supervision as well as treatment, along with learning work skills.

Another member of the task force agreed.

“We need a warm handoff from prison to the community,” said Jim Shields of Pottsville.

The next meeting of the task force will begin at 9 a.m. June 28, at the LVHN McCloskey School of Nursing, 420 Jackson St., Pottsville.

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