BROOKVILLE — Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Howard, came to Brookville to listen and he heard a lot from the participants in a roundtable discussion on the opioid epidemic facing the region and the nation.
Thompson said there are 16 deaths related to opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania daily. “I know we cannot eliminate this problem but I hope we can reduce it significantly. I believe to defeat a problem, you need to surround it.”
Thompson talked of several bills pending in Congress that would help with prevention and treatment. He drew attention to HB 3566, the Addiction Recovery for Rural Communities Act. The bill utilizes existing USDA Rural Development programs to assist in substance abuse treatment in rural areas by setting aside 20 percent of USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program grant funding for substance abuse treatment, abuse prevention and recovery services. The grant funding would be used by applicants seeking to improve education and outreach on opioids and other illicit substances.
“We cannot have tunnel vision,” he said. “Any legislation we write today must be flexible enough to affect the over reaching impact of drug abuse.”
Thompson said he hoped to attach HB 3566 to the Farm Bill, which is formed by the Agriculture Committee that Thompson chairs.
Susan Ford, of the Clearfield-Jefferson County Drug and Alcohol Commission, said treatment “all comes down to money” and rural areas do not receive enough. She suggested the federal government look at a block grant program that would allow more flexibility for treatment in the state.
Jefferson County Commissioner Jack Matson said the current approach to the opioid epidemic reminded him of the “Me Too” movement that brought sexual abuse out of the shadows. “We need to take that approach to opioid abuse and bring it out of the shadows.”
John Harmon, of the Reynoldsville Ambulance Service, said emergency crews are in danger and often have to stage in a safe area until the scene is cleared of any weapons or drugs. “We never know what we are getting into when we have an unknown medical emergency. In a rural area there simply are not enough police available.”
Pennsylvania State Trooper Ron Chewing said police are anticipating a spike in methamphetamine use within five years. Meth coming from overseas is flooding the area with cheap product he said, and once the users are addicted, a more expensive product will be substituted. He said it will also cause an increase in drug-related crimes.
The use of the drug Narcan has saved lives but is no more than a “Band-Aid,” according to Thompson. “We need more than a Band-Aid.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Jeff Pisarcik said the lack of state treatment facilities has forced the county to use the jail as a treatment center. “That is not the best place for them,” he said.
“We need to push prevention to the nth degree,” Jefferson County Commissioner Herb Bullers said. “The key to the whole thing is education.”
“It has to be a community approach,” Brookville Area High School Principal Ruthanne Barbazzeni said. “We have the kids for six hours a day and then they go home to the same environment.”
“There were some great take-aways here today. It is obvious that we have a long way to go,” Thompson said.