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2019 Annual Conference a Success

COCA Executive Director Stanley Papademetriou (far left) and COCA Board President Jobany Bedoya (far right) stand with 2019 Annual Conference award winners

The Council on Chemical Abuse held a tremendously successful Annual Conference on November 7 that focused on Addiction and the Family. A sell-out crowd of over 250 turned out to hear from a variety of inspiring and informative presenters, including Keynote Speaker Jennifer Smith, Secretary of PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP).


Other highlights of the day included an awards presentation, six breakout workshops, and a panel of speakers who shared personal stories of addiction and recovery within their families. In addition, the event, which was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wyomissing, featured over 20 table displays providing information about treatment and recovery services in Berks County.

PA Dept. of Drug & Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith

The conference kicked off with an informative speech by Secretary Smith. She discussed the many statewide initiatives to reduce overdose deaths, fight the opioid epidemic, improve prevention efforts and address substance abuse trends for non-opioid drugs. Smith provided a number of facts and figures about such topics as an increase in stimulant use, a decrease in overdose deaths and the growing need for more prevention programs. She also reminded the audience of the importance of hope.

“It’s really important to talk about the hopeful side of addiction. This is a treatable disease,” Smith said.

Stories of Healing Panelists

Following Smith’s speech, the audience heard a Stories of Healing panel presentation. The panel consisted of six presenters, including two who had struggled with substance use disorder themselves and four family members.  Drawing from their own experiences, they spoke about the pain, shame and confusion that family members face when confronting addiction. They provided valuable insights into the need to create healthy boundaries, provide support, find help and rebuild relationships.

Conference attendees had the opportunity to attend three of the six workshops offered. Workshop topics included family dynamics, intervention strategies, recovery paths, family wellness, the criminal justice system, and the physiology of addiction. Attendees were also provided a buffet breakfast and lunch. During lunch, the following awards were presented:

  • THE ROGER S. HERTZ EDUCATION AWARD: First Sgt. Joseph Cipko, Reading School District
  • THE JOSEPH “BUD” HAINES COMMUNITY AWARD: Richard Bradbury, Olivet Boys and Girls
  • THE FRANCIS “FRAN” DREXLER PUBLIC SAFETY AWARD: Berks County Chief of Police Association
  • THE BETTY J. MCDONOUGH TREATMENT AWARD:  Caron Counseling Services
  • THE ALGOT “AL” ECKSTROM RECOVERY AWARD: John Janiszewski, Berks County TASC & Warm Handoff Program
  • THE GEORGE J. VOGEL, JR. PRESIDENT’S AWARD: Dr. Edward B. Michalik, Berks County Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities, Administrator & Berks County Area Agency on Aging, Executive Director

COCA Offering Schools Free Community Showings of “Screenagers”

The Council on Chemical Abuse is offering all Berks County School Districts the opportunity to host a FREE community screening of the award-winning documentary film Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age.  The screenings, which are for parents and other adults, are available at no cost to districts and can be scheduled at any time during the 2019-20 school year.

The 67-minute film depicts messy struggles that often occur between parents and teens over social media, video games, and academics. It offers solutions on how adults can help kids navigate the digital world and find balance.

Click here to learn more about the film or watch a trailer.

“Parents, teachers, and administrators impact the behavior of children and students so much more than they often believe. This film approaches those issues and demonstrates how communities can affect true change in our “screen” world,” said COCA Prevention Program Manager Jaclyn Steed.

COCA will cover the full cost of showing the film and provide a Q & A after the screening. Districts will be responsible for providing the venue and marketing the event to parents and community members.

Interested districts should contact Jaclyn Steed at (610) 376-8669, Ext. 107 or at

COCA to Celebrate Red Ribbon Week

In honor of National Red Ribbon Week, the Council on Chemical Abuse provides Berks County Schools with free red ribbons for students to wear during the last week in October.

Since the beginning of the school year, our prevention specialists have provided 64 schools across Berks County with a total of over 45,300 ribbons. Schools will hand those ribbons out to students during the final week of October. Students wear the ribbons to demonstrate their opposition to illegal drugs and illustrate their dedication to living drug-free.

This year’s ribbons bear the National Red Ribbon Week campaign message: “Send a Message. Stay Drug Free!” For the first time, COCA is offering both a traditional fabric ribbon, as well as a sticker ribbon that students can affix directly to their clothes.

It’s not too late! Berks County Schools can click here to order ribbons!

COCA will further support Red Ribbon Week by having our mascot, Courage the lion, available to visit elementary schools upon request. During Courage’s visits, he will be accompanied by a member of our prevention team who can speak with students about making healthy choices.

The Red Ribbon Campaign, sponsored by the National Family Partnership, is the oldest and largest prevention program in the United States. The first Red Ribbon Week was introduced in 1988 to mobilize communities to educate youth and encourage participation in drug prevention activities. Today, it reaches more that a million students nationwide.

In addition to providing ribbons, COCA prevention specialists are available to teach educational programs. All programs are available for FREE to Berks County schools.

Click here to learn more about how COCA recognizes Red Ribbon Week.

COCA Opens New RISE Center

The Council on Chemical Abuse opened the new RISE Center in downtown Reading, with a ribbon cutting on September 12 followed by a Grand Opening on September 14. RISE (Recovery – Information – Support – Education) is a new facility that provides space for meetings, activities, programs and events to support individuals in recovery and their families. Located in the newly renovated ground floor of the Big Mill Apartments on 702 N. 8th St. in Reading, RISE opened with a full slate of activities already planned. Those include exercise and mindfulness classes, programs on nutrition, recovery meetings and more.

The Ribbon Cutting was attended by about 100 people including state, county and local officials. Speakers included Secretary for PA Drug and Alcohol Programs Jennifer Smith, PA Senator Judy Schwank, Berks Co. Commissioners Christian Leinbach and Kevin Barnhardt and Berks Co. DA John Adams, among others. The Grand Opening celebration drew another crowd of about 100 people who came out to tour the new facility.

Click here to learn more, view a calendar of events and for links to news articles about RISE.

Facts About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Q.What are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)?
A. This is an umbrella term for a range of physical, developmental, learning and behavioral disabilities that can result when mothers consume alcohol while pregnant.

Q. Is FASD rare?
A. It occurs in one newborn in 100, a rate slightly higher than autism’s one in 150.

Q.How much alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy?
A. The U.S. Surgeon General announced in 2005 that no amount of alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy.

Q. Is there any time during a pregnancy when it is safe to drink?
A. No. When a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, it enters her blood stream and is passed on to her child. This can occur at any point during a baby’s development.

Q.Is it safe for women to drink when they are trying to get pregnant?
A woman should stop drinking when she begins trying to get pregnant. Otherwise, she risks unintentionally exposing the baby to alcohol before she is aware that she’s pregnant.

Q. Should a woman worry about FASD if she’s not pregnant and not trying to get pregnant?
A. Women of childbearing age who are sexually active and not using contraception, could get pregnant and unintentionally expose the baby to alcohol. Talk to your health care provider about using contraception regularly.

Q. What if a woman drinks before she knows she is pregnant?
A. It’s important for a woman to let her health care provider know. Because brain growth takes places throughout pregnancy, the sooner a woman stops drinking, the better it is for her baby.

Q. If a woman drinks during pregnancy, will the baby have an FASD?
A. Because every pregnancy is different, drinking alcohol may affect one baby more than another. It is always important to share concerns about alcohol consumption during pregnancy with a health care provider.

Q. What is the cure for FASD?
A. There is no cure, but FASD is 100 percent preventable when women do not consume alcohol during pregnancy.

Learn more about FASDs here

Click here for more FAQs on pregnancy & substance use

Lung Illnesses Linked to Vaping

Vaping Lunch & Learn - COCAThe medical community is growing increasingly concerned over a spate of serious lung illnesses that have been linked to vaping.

Recently, the PA Department of Health  issued a health advisory warning clinicians about “severe acute pulmonary disease associated with vaping.” The advisory was a response to “increasing reports of lung injury, in some cases severe, which have preliminarily been associated with vaping.” In Pennsylvania, those reports came over the past several weeks from the Pittsburgh Poison Control Center.

“We are aware of at least four cases that have been treated in Pittsburgh hospitals in the last week that appear likely to be related to vaping, though the specific products are unknown at this time,” the advisory states.

In most cases, patients have reported vaping products that contain THC, although not all chemicals were not identified.

Th advisory warns clinicians to provide patients who have a history of vaping with ” patient education regarding the potential for severe lung injury.”

The advisory is part of a growing response from the medical community over concerns about serious lung illnesses related to e-cigarettes. On August 23, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated during a press briefing that “193 potential cases of of severe lung illness associated with e-cigarette product use” had been reported by 22 states. Not all those cases were confirmed, however one death was reported in Illinois.

Click here to read full PA health advisory.

SEPTEMBER: National Recovery Month

Every September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), sponsors National Recovery Month.  Now celebrating its 30th year, Recovery Month highlights the achievements of individuals who have reclaimed their lives in long-term recovery, and honors the treatment and recovery service providers who make recovery possible. Recovery Month also promotes the message that recovery in all of its forms is possible and encourages citizens to take action to help expand and improve the availability of effective prevention, treatment, and recovery services for those in need.

Each year, Recovery Month selects a new focus and theme to spread the message and share the successes of treatment and recovery. The 2019 Recovery Month theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We Are Stronger,” emphasizes the need to share resources and build networks across the country to support recovery.

This year’s events for National Recovery Month include:

Saturday, September 21, 2019 – Berks County Recovery Walk

Saturday, September 28, 2019 – Soberstock event

CLICK HERE to view all the upcoming COCA events!

COCA’s Summer of Kindness

West Reading Playground celebrated their summer of kindness with a pizza party that turned out to be an act of kindness from local businesses.

Our prevention team spends the summer visiting camps, playgrounds and youth groups, teaching young people to avoid drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors. This summer, we offered a program that focused on kindness, encouraging kids to fill “kindness buckets” with notes about daily acts of goodwill. To heighten the stakes, we promised an end-of-summer pizza party to the group that gathered the most kindness notes and #cocakindness posts on social media. While we saw many heartening examples of kindness all summer long, West Reading Playground won the contest. But our story doesn’t end there. We were elated when the acts of kindness continued–not from the children, but from the businesses in and around West Reading.

When we approached businesses for donations for the pizza party, we were overwhelmed by their response. At first, we worried that we wouldn’t have enough pizza for the 55 children who participated in the West Reading Playground summer program. Those fears proved unfounded. We received donations of pizza, funds and ice cream from seven businesses who quickly agreed to supply all that we needed for a fun, well-deserved party to celebrate a summer full of kind acts. Special thanks to: Georgio’s Pizzeria, G.N.A Ristorante, Tony’s Al Taglio, Superior Oxygen, Sweet Ride Ice Cream, Larkin Veterinary Clinic, and The Original Mama’s Pizza & Grill in Sinking Spring.

Thanks to all our sponsors (Sweet Ride Ice Cream not pictured):

Georgio’s Pizzaria

GNA Ristorante

Larkin Veterinary Clinic

Mama’s Pizza

Tony’s Al Taglio & Superior Oxygen

The kids loved the pizza and ice cream!

Testimonials to Fight the Stigma of Addiction

The Council on Chemical Abuse, in partnership with SOS Berks Opioid Coalition, has launched a new campaign to reduce the stigma associated with addiction. In June, we had our board room transformed into a film studio for a day, as a team of videographers interviewed six Berks County residents who had been impacted by addiction. Those interviewed included two people who had lost family members to overdoses and four people who are in recovery from addiction. Their stories are heartbreaking and inspiring.  You can view all the testimonials on the SOS Berks website.

The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the true faces of addiction and recovery, and to encourage all people to be supportive and compassionate toward those impacted by the disease of addiction. We are grateful to all those who bravely shared their difficult stories–their testimonials are crucial to helping people understand why stigma is so damaging.

Do you have a story you want to share to help fight stigma?

CLICK HERE to fill out a short questionnaire

Please note: Participants must reside or work in Berks County.

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