Throughout February, abc27 News highlighted how the coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania and how people can help loved ones suffering substance use disorders.
On Monday evening, abc27’s Alicia Richards gives a look at how Pennsylvanians can prevent addiction in the first place.
Gaudenzia, a drug and alcohol addiction treatment and recovery center, treats substance use disorder at facilities across the state. They know what works and what doesn’t.
“Scare tactics do not work. Getting a famous person to come in and talk about their experience — these do not work. Prevention is a science,” Matt Null, a Gaudenzie spokesperson, explained.
Null says addiction will never go away. It’s a disease. But, he says, there could be a day when there’s far less of it.
So how does Pennsylvania get there?
First, families are advised not to enable.
“That’s one of the hardest ones because we don’t want to see a loved one sleep on a park bench. But until they get uncomfortable, they’re not going to change,” Null said.
Null says calling the police on a loved one can be brutal, but it might be key to saving their life.
What about drug use in the workplace?
“Any employer listening to this can contact Drug-free Workplace. They will come in and help train you and give you some resources and even train your staff in how to recognize that someone may be struggling with substance use,” Null said.
And finally, schools.
Null says what the Halifax School District is doing in Dauphin County is working.
“I’m just very passionate about it and am empowered to continue to do this,” said Heather Crook of Halifax Communities that Care.
Crook runs the “Communities That Care” program. She’s received multiple awards for her work preventing illegal substance use.
Statewide, 41% of kids have tried alcohol. In comparison, 31% of kids have tried alcohol in Halifax.
“But we’re not only talking about drugs and alcohol,” Crook explains, “and I think that’s the deceiving piece. A lot of people are like, ‘oh you’re doing a drug and alcohol program.’ No, we’re doing a program about life skills.”
It’s tough to do during a pandemic, but Crook says the key is teaching young people social skills and life skills.
Perhaps most importantly, Crook teaches children how to identify and manage emotions, especially with the high rate of depression among young people.
“I say until we address that alone, our drug and alcohol program is not going anywhere,” Null said.
According to data from the Pennsylvania Youth survey, in 2019, the number of 12th Graders who felt sad or depressed most days was at 40% — and that’s before the pandemic.
“I feel like if they know how to manage their emotions and they know the resources out there to assist them, if they’re struggling especially at these times during the pandemic, they’re not going to use drugs and alcohol,” Crook said.
This month, Governor Wolf signed the thirteenth extension of Pennsylvania’s opioid emergency declaration, first enacted in 2018.
With the declaration in place, the state can loosen regulations with the goal of helping people at a faster rate when the pandemic ends.
Services that have been halted or have been moved online will return in-person, which will make a huge difference.