Hundreds of locals came out to Cairn University in Langhorne on Wednesday night for a town hall on overdose prevention in Lower Bucks.
The panel discussion included experts in the fields of government, law enforcement, legislation and treatment and recovery. Panelists gave insight from their backgrounds as they relate to the opioid epidemic in Bucks.
The event was organized by the Lower Bucks Addiction Task Force, a group made up of people from these various backgrounds formed in November to fight addiction in local communities.
“This is a monster with many, many tentacles,” said Judge Rea Boylan, who moderated the panel. “We can’t punish addiction away, and there needs to be steps for communities to embrace this problem and take it on.”
This town hall, she said, is part of the push toward that.
Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub began the discussion by talking about initiatives his office is taking on to combat addiction.
He highlighted the county’s efforts with Narcan, the medicine that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. He said that police departments in Bucks County now have 100 percent coverage. This has been a coordinated effort with Diane Rosati, executive director of the Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission. Rosati later said that every school in the county now has access to Narcan.
EMS Medical Director Dr. Kenneth Lavelle mentioned the importance of learning CPR to help in the event of an overdose in case Narcan is not available.
“Nobody dies from a lack of Narcan,” he said. “They die from lack of oxygen.”
Weintraub also highlighted another feature of Act 139, the law that allowed for universal access to Narcan. He called it the “Don’t run, call 911” law.
“If you have somebody in your presence that is suffering from an overdose, whether you need it or not, you can feel comfortable calling 911,” he said. “As long you’re honest and cooperative and stay on the phone with them, the person that is overdosing will not be subject to prosecution for any drugs that they have on them.”
“In essence, the legislature has decided that it’s more important to save a life than to prosecute,” he added, which drew cheers from the audience.
Weintraub said that while his office does prosecute drug users, that is not its primary objective — he wants to go after drug dealers.
To that end, the county has a system where people in the community can report suspected drug dealers or give tips that could lead to an arrest.
“Let us be the judge of whether that tip has any meaning or substance. You don’t have to worry about that,” Weintraub said.
Community members can call 215-345-DRUG, email email@example.com or text BUCKSDRUGTIPS to TIP411 to submit information.
Weintraub and others highlighted the county’s drug take-back program for expired or unused prescription medications. There are 33 drug take-back boxes in the county, and community members are encouraged to dispose of them. Through this program, over 80,000 pounds of drugs have been incinerated.
Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran talked about some of the initiatives taken up by the department that could be used elsewhere.
One of those is Bensalem Police Assisting in Recovery (BPAIR), which allows for township residents struggling with substance abuse to come to the police and be paired with a “navigator” who can accompany them to a nearby treatment center to go into recovery. If they have drugs or paraphernalia and turn them over voluntarily, they will not be arrested or charged with a crime.
“At worst, it’s a 24-hour wait for a bed,” Harran said, noting that 35 people have used the program so far. By the end of 2017, he anticipates the program will be in all Bucks County police departments.
State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, who advocates for drug prevention in the state legislature, spoke about some initiatives on that front.
He introduced legislation that would amend a bill that requires doctors prescribing opioid drugs to search a database that monitors prescribing habits if they have a new patient. The amendment would require doctors to search the database for each patient every time the patient is prescribed a controlled substance.
This, he said, would further cut down on abuse and diversion of prescription opioids.
DiGirolamo also advocated for more funds from the state to go to drug prevention and recovery. He even proposed that empty state buildings could be used to supplement crowded detox and treatment centers and urged the state to go after drug companies to “make them clean up the mess they created.”
“This has gone way, way too far,” DiGirolamo said. “We have to get our hands around this problem.” ••