NEWS: Berks County Opioid Task Force

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“Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer. No one is immune,” said David Reyher, Instructor of Behavioral Health at Alvernia University. Reyher was one of three professionals presenting at the Berks County Opioid Task Force meeting on Friday, March 10, 2017. About 50 professionals representing Berks County gathered for a meeting at the Reading Hospital to address the opioid crisis in Berks County.

The March 10 meeting opened with a presentation from Berks County District Attorney John Adams on the supply of drugs, specifically heroin and other opioids in Berks County. Adams said 95 investigations were focused on heroin last year, an increase when compared to years past when most investigations were focused on cocaine. A big difference with the increase of heroin as opposed to cocaine is that heroin leads to more deaths, due to the nature of the drug. The combination of purity, availability and low pricing of heroin has created a lethal situation in our region. The question of other synthetic opioids also came up to which Adams responded, “Fentanyl is a huge problem.”

“Anything fentanyl touches, it kills,” said Chief County Detective Michael J. Gombar. According to the National institute on Drug Abuse, Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine. It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery but can be found on the streets. Fentanyl is being found cut in with heroin and cocaine throughout the county, and it is a great concern to law enforcement because of the ability to be absorbed through contact with skin. We applaud the Berks County DA’s office for their continued work to get drugs off our streets!

For individuals suffering from addiction coming to get treatment, Dan Milloy, Executive Director of Treatment Access and Services Center (TASC), noted that heroin, alcohol and marijuana are the top three drugs.  Work to get individuals into treatment continues, with TASC offering a “Warm Handoff” to those who show up in the emergency from an overdose or with severe opioid withdrawal symptoms. Berks has been successful in getting individuals into treatment with this program. To read more about the “Warm Handoff” program, please CLICK HERE.

“Without demand, supply wouldn’t be an issue,” said David Reyher, Professor of Behavioral Health at Alvernia University, in response to how addiction is the driving force behind why the supply of drugs seems to be so plentiful. “Addiction is a disease of ‘non-choice’ not ‘bad choice,’ “said Reyher. Kathy Noll, Data Analyst for the Council on Chemical Abuse and adjust professor of Behavioral health at Alvernia University spoke to the task force about how addiction works. “In addiction the brain is hijacked at the level of basic survival (eat, fight, procreate) and the drug of choice becomes #1,” Noll explained.

Lead by Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt and George Vogel, Executive Director, Council on Chemical Abuse, the Berks County Opioid Task Force has been established to assess and respond to the local impact of the opioid epidemic. With guidance from the University of Pittsburgh, the task force has gathered momentum rather quickly and meets on a quarterly basis.  Goals of the task force include community awareness and lowering heroin-related deaths. Members are in committees focused on community safety, education and prevention, community awareness and outreach, data collection/assessment and healthcare and treatment.

Committee members were asked to place their discussion and direction into the following format:

  • Goals – What as a committee they are looking to achieve
  • Rationale – Thinking behind the set goals
  • Approach – Action steps to address goals

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