Health Officials: “Pennsylvania dealing with pandemic and epidemic at the same time”

Investigators

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — During a virtual press conference Tuesday, Pennsylvania Department of Health officials put the spotlight back on the opioid addiction crisis.

“We are facing a pandemic and an epidemic at the same time. The opioid crisis continues and we can not turn our back on it,” said Ray Barishansky, Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection.

According to the Pa. Department of Health, several counties have anecdotally reported an increase in 911 calls, emergency room visits, and overdoses related to opioids.

“We are losing far too many Pennsylvanians to drug related fatalities,” said Jennifer Smith, Secretary, Pa. Department of Health Drug and Alcohol Programs.

According to the Pa. Department of Health, in 2019 nearly 12 Pennsylvanians died from a drug overdose each day and there are fears the isolation caused by the pandemic may increase that number in 2020.

Secretary Smith says the stigma attatched to substance use disorder still prevents many from asking for help.

“We are spearheading the countries first state driven, proven, behavioral change campaign to effectively reduce stigma across the Commonwealth,” Secretary Smith said.

With the help of several partners, the state launched Life Unites Us. A website where those affected by substance abuse disorder can share their stories and find resources. The hope is the community will come together and that includes those in the workplace.

“Sixteen percent of workers are afraid to ask for help because they are fearful that it is going to impact their job detrimentally,” said Donna Creager, Community Engagement/Program Specialist, DFWPA.

Drug-Free Workplace Pa (DFWPA) is a non-profit that is grant-funded through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

“We have really been given this great big mission to support, empower, and educate workplaces and communities and hopefully employers, in turn, will be empowered to be part of the solution,” Creager said.

DFWPA also partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to offer eight free webinars a month.

“We discuss things like managing stress while working from home, supervisors learn how to check in with their employees to make sure that they are doing ok, and they learn about employee assistance programs and how vital that is,” Creager said.

Sometimes just asking, ‘Are you ok?’, can lead to recovery.

“By showing compassion to our fellow Pennsylvanians we can give them the courage they need to seek the help they truly deserve,” said Secretary Smith.

The state’s get help now hotline is is 1-800-662-4357 or 1-800-662-HELP.

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