SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. — Penn State Schuylkill and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Schuylkill collaborated to present “Opioids: The Crisis Next Door,” a free conference held on campus Sept. 19 that detailed the facts and signs of addiction, as well as the resources available to help community members affected by the epidemic. The conference’s 200 attendees heard from a variety of addiction and behavioral health experts throughout the day-long event.
Understanding the Opioid Crisis
In his keynote address, Glenn Sterner, assistant professor of criminal justice at Penn State Abington, provided an overview of the opioid crisis from the early 2000s until today. He explained the difference between opiates, which are naturally derived, and opioids, which are synthetic or chemically altered; spoke about where these drugs come from; and explored the ways in which addictions develop. Perhaps most importantly, however, Sterner spoke about the stigma of addiction, and how the stigma surrounding opioid abuse acts as a barrier to treatment.
“This is a disease. This is not a moral failing,” he said. “[Opioid abuse] disrupts our families, disrupts our communities."
Sterner explained that, to combat the problem, community engagement, support and understanding are essential.
Sterner concluded his address by sharing helpful resources, including one he developed himself. The Share Your Opioid Story initiative offers addicts and their loved ones the opportunity to tell the real stories behind the opioid crisis. By sharing these true stories, the initiative intends to inspire hope in others, dispel myths and decrease stigma.
“When we address this in a comprehensive way – when we work across all of our capacities in our communities – we can do this," he said.
Following Current Drug Trends
Schuylkill County District Attorney Michael O’Pake spoke next, offering the crowd a legal perspective on controlling the opioid crisis. O’Pake spoke about the crime in Schuylkill County, noting that almost every crime has an element of drug abuse to it. Some people, he explained, steal for drug money; others neglect their children while high. Soberingly, he admitted that he cannot stop the flow of drugs into the county, but explained that “my goal is to lessen the impact of drugs in Schuylkill County.”