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NEWS: Disposal bag initiative coming to Berks

 A Safe Alternative for Medication Disposal

Disposal bag initiative coming to Berks


Reading, PA: A major drug problem in the United States is not on the streets – it is in your home. Medicine cabinets continue to be a source of drug abuse. To help keep your family protected it is important to safely dispose of unused and expired medications. Twenty-nine medication drop boxes are currently located throughout Berks County, but for some, getting to a drop box location may not be possible. A new program will provide an alternative option for Berks residents.

SOS Berks, the Berks Opioid Coalition, will be distributing medication disposal bags to individuals who are homebound and need to dispose of unused and expired medications.  “The medication disposal bag is yet one more weapon at our disposal to fight the opioid overdose epidemic” states Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt, Co-Chair of SOS Berks.  “These bags allow for the safe disposal of medications that may otherwise end up in the hands of our children and grandchildren.” The medication disposal bags are made available through funds from the Berks County Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities Program.

Beginning this spring, the Council on Chemical Abuse (COCA), in collaboration with the Berks County Office of Aging, will coordinate outreach and education programs to home health care programs and senior centers.  Dr. Edward B. Michalik, Executive Director of the Berks County Office of Aging indicated that the medication disposal bags would be especially helpful for those seniors who are homebound and may not be able to safely dispose of their unused medications. According to Dr. Michalik, the medication disposal bags, together with awareness materials, will be disseminated specifically to seniors unable to access the medication drop boxes.

This initiative is part of a comprehensive plan developed by SOS Berks to assist county residents in the disposal of unused medications. SOS Berks began in 2016 with a focus on reducing overdose deaths related to opioids. Efforts of the coalition have spread to include community safety related to opioids, including medication safety. Visit their Facebook page at to learn more.

For more information about this program, please contact Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz at (610) 376-8669, Ext. 112 or



About Council on the Chemical Abuse (COCA)

Established in 1972 by a group of community members, the Council on Chemical Abuse was formed as a private non-profit organization to address rising concerns of drug and alcohol use in Berks County. The Berks County Commissioners contract with the Council on Chemical Abuse (COCA) as the Single County Authority for Berks County, PA. As the coordinating agency for publicly supported drug and alcohol programming in the county, COCA and its partners provide an array of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery services. More information can be found at



Does Underage Drinking Cause Anxiety?

It’s well known that underage drinking poses serious health risks for teens. Now, new research suggests that early alcohol exposure can come back to haunt a person later in life.

A recent study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, identified a link between alcohol consumption in adolescents and later increased anxiety in adulthood.

The study looked at changes in the brains of rats who were administered alcohol as adolescents, as compared to those who were not exposed to alcohol. The animals that were given alcohol demonstrated changes in the brain that made them susceptible to anxiety as adults.

“These findings provide a better understanding of how adolescent alcohol exposure can lead to life-long biomolecular changes that increase the risk for adult-onset psychiatric disorders,” said the study’s leader Subhash C. Pandey Ph.D, professor and director of the NIAAA-funded Alcohol Research Center in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Senior Research Career Scientist at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.

This research provides important evidence of the long-range impacts of underage drinking, adding to an existing body of research that shows that exposure to alcohol at a young age can be particularly detrimental.

At COCA, Prevention Specialist Sarah Billman works with teens through our UDecide Program, educating them on the problems associated with underage drinking.

“Alcohol use has the ability to cause structural changes to an immature brain.  The human brain is still growing and developing into the mid-20’s.  Introducing a mood altering substance, like alcohol, to that developing brain can alter the way the brain works.  And the substance does not need to be taken in large quantities in order to do damage,” Billman cautioned.

If you are concerned about the alcohol use of a teen you know, you can refer them to our UDecide Program. This program is an opportunity for young adults to learn the facts about alcohol, marijuana, and other addictive substances. CLICK HERE for more details.

Request for Proposal: Website Re-Design

The Council on Chemical Abuse (COCA) is planning a website redesign in 2019. Our current website is not meeting our needs and we are seeking proposals from website design agencies who can help us achieve our goals with a new website.  The awarded agency will be responsible for creating  an attractive, mobile-friendly, site on a WordPress platform that utilizes best management practices and provides intuitive navigation and clear messaging about who we are and what we do.

Anticipated Selection Schedule

  • March 18, 2019 – RFP Application opens at noon
  • April 2, 2019 – Questions about RFP submitted by NOON to Laura Catalano via email at
  • April 10, 2019 – Answers provided via email to all those who requested the RFP.
  • May 1, 2019 – RFP Application closes at 4:00 p.m.
  • May 13-20, 2019 – Interviews with agencies in final selection for RFP award
  • June 11 – Announcement of awarded agency

Due to the overwhelming response, we are no longer accepting online requests to receive the RFP for this project.  Completed proposals are due by May 1, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.

NEWS: Download our new Vaping & JUULing Toolkit

What is vaping? What is JUULing? There are many reasons why health professionals are concerned about the rise in youth using these products. One of them being that e-cigarette devices contain the drug nicotine, and for young users, nicotine can set them up for a lifetime of addiction.

We invite you to DOWNLOAD the Berks County, PA Vaping Toolkit to learn more. Inside you will find fact sheets and local data, as well as tips and resources for parents, educators and healthcare professionals. This toolkit was adapted from the original version made by our friends in Montgomery County.

Related posts:

NEWS –  Nicotine: As Addictive as Heroin and Marketed to Teens

Want to quit vaping or JUULing? Join a tobacco cessation class for FREE with COCA. VIEW the upcoming class schedule.

Watch a recent show with Teresa Detweiler, Prevention Specialist about nicotine, vaping and JUULing.

Would you like COCA to come to your school or community group to talk about Vaping & JUULing? Please fill out the form below to request a prevention education presentation.

Presentation Request Form

Please fill out this form to submit a request for a presentation from the Council on Chemical Abuse. Should you have any questions, please contact Jaclyn Steed, Prevention Program Manager,, (610)376-8669, Ext. 107.
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Problem Gambling: The Hidden Addiction

Did you know that problem gambling is often called the “hidden addiction”? That’s because it has no visible symptoms, unlike drug or alcohol abuse. However, an estimated two million Americans suffer from a pathological gambling addiction. That figure jumps to 4 to 6 million when you count those people who don’t fit the definition of pathological gamblers, but have some gambling-related problems. Included in those numbers are people of all ages, from senior citizens who spend their weekends at casinos to teens who play online games that involve betting. In fact, as many as 10 to 15 percent of American and Canadian youth have some type of gambling problem.

The term “problem gambling” includes but is not limited to pathological gambling, which is a progressive addiction. It is characterized by an increasing preoccupation with gambling and a need to bet more money more frequently. A person who suffers from pathological gambling will become restless and irritable whenever he or she attempts to quit, and will continue to gamble in spite of negative consequences and financial losses.

While problem gambling does not involve ingesting a substance, it is nevertheless considered an addiction because its impact on the brain is similar to that of drugs or alcohol. It alters a person’s mood so that he or she continues to gamble to re-create that mood. Like a drug, the act of gambling releases dopamine in the brain. Eventually, the brain builds up a tolerance to it, and the person needs to gamble more to get the same stimulation.

But when it comes to problem gambling, there is some good news. Research shows that most adults are able to gamble responsibly. What’s more, people who are educated about the warning signs of problem gambling are more likely to make good choices. You can become more educated about problem gambling by joining us on March 26 at one of our gambling awareness events.

You can also learn more about problem gambling by watching our most recent BCTV episode:

PA’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

Do you know that the Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) collects information on all filled prescriptions for controlled substances and uses that data for drug abuse prevention and treatment? During our February 13 Lunch & Learn, Meghna H. Patel, MHA, director of the program, gave a detailed overview of the types of data collected and how information can be used to track trends and improve treatments.

Information from the program is available to doctors and pharmacists, who check the database before prescribing or dispensing medications. By so doing, they can see if a patient has had opioids or other drugs prescribed by other providers. But data is used in a variety of other ways, as well. The PDMP’s website includes an interactive data report that provides analytics on a variety of data points, including overdoses by county, age & gender; as well as the types and quantities of controlled substances that are dispensed.

These figures arm government officials with valuable data for determining where treatment and prevention programs need to be implemented and the effectiveness of those programs. Patel said emergency rooms throughout the state provide timely information on overdoses. Because information is received rapidly, PDMP can respond quickly when an upsurge is reported. And, department officials can combine data on overdose deaths from several sources to keep track of what types of drugs were involved, whether a mental health history was reported and other details.

“These factors allow us to determine what exactly needs to be prevented and fixed,” Patel said.

A Long Range View of the Opioid Epidemic

A U.S. News & World Report review of two decades’ worth of data on opioid-related overdose deaths gives a long-range view of the opioid epidemic in America. The study, which analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1999 to the present, shows death rates rose steadily from 1999-2006, slowed from 2007 to 2014, and then began to skyrocket.

The U.S. News & World Report article points to the advent of OxyContin in the late 1990s for the early rise in opioid related deaths. While deaths continued to climb through the early 2000s, they did so more slowly from 2007-2014, when “doctors began limiting access to legally prescribed opioids.” Overdose deaths jumped significantly in 2014, when opioid users started turning to fentanyl and heroin. By 2017, opioid-related deaths had hit an all-time high of 14.9 per 100,000 people—up from about 4 per 100,000 in 1999.

According to the article, understanding the long-term data is important for developing and implementing effective prevention and treatment efforts.

“Only when we look at the data over time can we learn what is or isn’t working and which of the opioid-focused dollars, task forces and agencies are actually saving lives, ” said Rocco Perla, co-founder of new nonprofit The Health Initiative, who helped analyze the data.

Read the full article here

Nicotine: As Addictive as Heroin and Marketed to Teens

During National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week (Jan. 22-27, 2019), The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) seeks to expose facts and “Shatter the Myths” about drug use.

Here’s a fact you might not know: Nicotine is just as addictive as heroin. That’s not a new-found fact. As far back as 1988, the surgeon general  compared the addictive quality of nicotine to both heroin and cocaine. That means it’s just as hard to quit smoking as it is for someone addicted to heroin to stop using drugs. While this may not be a new fact, it has renewed meaning today, when this highly addictive substance is being marketed to teens in the form of e-cigarettes.

Like other addictive substances, nicotine releases dopamine—a chemical in the brain that helps control pleasure and motivation. When a smoker finishes a cigarette, the pleasurable feeling subsides quickly, and he or she craves more. Eventually a person develops a tolerance, meaning more nicotine is needed to feel pleasure—and overtime, more is needed just to feel normal.

The risk of addiction is worse in teens and young adults, because their brains are still developing. Today, that risk is exacerbated by the increasing popularity of vaping among high school and middle school students. E-cigarettes often contain higher, more concentrated levels of nicotine than traditional cigarettes.

The most popular e-cigarette brand is JUUL, which uses cartridges that deliver the nicotine equivalent of 200 puffs of a traditional cigarette. While adolescents commonly think vaping is a safer alternative to smoking, addiction actually happens faster with JUUL than with traditional tobacco products.

Disturbingly, JUUL and other e-cigarettes come in fruity flavors that are marketed to appeal to teens. In 2018, the National Youth Tobacco Survey found that vaping was reaching epidemic proportions among high school and middle school students, with more than 3.6 million respondents reporting they were current e-cigarette users.

What can parents do to keep their teens from using this common drug that is just as addictive as heroin? The Council on Chemical Abuse recommends that parents talk to their kids about the dangers of all drug and alcohol use. Click here to see our Time to Talk recommendations.

Learn more about nicotine addiction

Blue Cares Reaches Out to Help Overdose Survivors in Berks

Blue CARES is a collaborative program between Berks County Law Enforcement and the Council on Chemical Abuse (COCA). When an individual is revived with NARCAN® Nasal Spray by a Berks County Law Enforcement Officer, COCA and Berks County Law Enforcement schedule a time for a home visit to the overdose survivor and family. A Law Enforcement Officer and Drug & Alcohol Professional engage the overdose survivor in a conversation offering help to access substance use treatment and/or support services. If the individual accepts such help, there is an immediate referral for appropriate services. If no one is home, substance use disorder related literature is left behind. Resources and services available are also provided for family members.

The goals of this program are the following:

  • To encourage the overdose survivor to engage in appropriate addiction treatment.
  • To provide the much needed inspiration and the necessary know-how to facilitate such an admission.
  • To inform family members on how they can help themselves as well as how they can support their loved one.

Understanding Addiction: Getting Beyond Myths and Misinformation

Today, when the opioid crisis has reached epidemic levels, we hear a great deal about addiction. Nevertheless, misinformation and myths abound, making it difficult for many people to comprehend the true nature of addiction. When it comes to understanding addiction, a good place to start is with the American Society of Addictive Medicine (ASAM) definition:

“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.”

A key word here is primary, meaning that it arises on its own, as opposed to a secondary disease, which is caused by a previous ailment. Unfortunately, addiction is commonly misunderstood as arising from a moral failing or behavioral problem. Therefore, it’s critical to recognize that medical experts have determined that addiction is its own illness and not the fault of some existing condition.

An equally important element of the ASAM definition is the word “chronic.” This is, perhaps, easier to grasp because we all know someone who suffers from or, may ourselves suffer from, a chronic disease, like asthma or diabetes.

“Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission,” the ASAM definition states. So, again, the common assumption that relapses are the result of a moral failing or a symptom of poor willpower, is in fact a misconception. The American College of Physicians has called for addiction to be treated like other treatable, chronic medical conditions, which, in many cases, involve lifelong care.

We don’t blame people with asthma when they have a relapse, and we don’t expect people with diabetes to be fully cured. We recognize that these are diseases that can be successfully treated, but that, even when they are in remission, they can return. Because addiction changes the chemistry of the brain, it too is a chronic disease that often requires a series of treatments before an individual enters into recovery.

It is crucial for families and friends to understand addiction for what it is, so that they can help their loved one get the treatment they need. “Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death,” the ASAM definition states.

While there is much to fear when it comes to addiction, there is also good reason for optimism. Addiction actually has better treatment outcomes than many other chronic conditions. Evidence shows that individuals in recovery can manage their disease and live fulfilling lives.

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Learn more about Addictions

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