PHILADELPHIA (AP) — More than 50 print, digital and broadcast news organizations are casting a spotlight on the diverse and sometimes out-of the-ordinary tactics being used to combat the devastating effects of the opioids crisis across Pennsylvania, from the smallest towns to the biggest cities.
One goal of the media collaboration, “State of Emergency: Searching for Solutions to Pennsylvania’s Opioids Crisis,” was to make sure communities in every part of the state are aware of strategies, innovations and community efforts that are helping to alleviate the crisis, or at least show promise.
“Everyone’s seen the stats on fatal overdoses, stories about EMTs called out to revive the same addict again and again. The new, more dangerous drugs. We’ve all been covering this horrific epidemic for a very long time,” said Cate Barron of PennLive/The Patriot-News, one of the editors organizing the effort.
So the Pennsylvania Associated Press Media Editors and the Pennsylvania Society of News Editors put out a call to newsrooms in April to document potential solutions and share their stories with all the participants in the project.
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“We found a lot out there to give cause for real hope,” Barron said.
In 2016, more than 2,200 Pennsylvanians died of opioid overdoses, the fourth highest rate in the U.S., according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Stories from nearly all of the state’s 67 counties, being published or broadcast starting Sunday, show how government agencies, businesses, first responders, families of victims and ordinary citizens are battling the opioids crisis. Parents are transforming grief into action, police are working to understand addiction and counties are helping those in recovery find meaningful work and keep families together.
In Luzerne County, Judy Provanzo founded a support group after her 22-year-old son Michael died in an overdose. A few weeks into their meetings, the women in the group decided talking wasn’t enough, and they wanted to do something to both keep their children’s memories alive and help others who are suffering. They decided to fill backpacks with toiletries and heartfelt notes of encouragement and donate them to those entering rehabilitation centers.
“The day Mikey died a part of me and his father died with him. I’m sharing this with you in hopes it helps you along your journey,” one note by Provanzo reads. “If you’re feeling like you want to give up, please think of Mikey and how my heart is breaking not having him. Remember you are loved and you can do this one day at a time.”
In Columbia County, Berwick police officers are trying to extend a helping hand to people with opioid addiction, guiding them toward treatment even as they crack down on drug dealers.
“We’re here to protect and serve,” said Police Chief Kenneth Strish. “That includes addicts.”
A veteran Little League umpire is getting the message out in Lycoming County about the dangers of opioids. Barry Rake started his initiative last fall and, with the help of about a dozen volunteers, has already distributed approximately 7,000 water bottles in the county. The plastic sports bottles carry the “Too Smart to Start” slogan and contain a message about drug abuse directed at parents.
A program in Somerset County is seeking to help adults in recovery from addiction by finding them meaningful employment. The Chamber of Commerce says the effort also helps meet the need of employers who are facing a labor pool that has shrunk because of the opioids crisis.
“These are people at a crossroads,” county Chamber of Commerce Director Ron Aldom said. “In a lot of cases, these are bright, college-educated people … who have shown a commitment to turning their lives around. The idea behind Operation Hope Shot is, ‘Let’s make a commitment to them.'”