Opioid talk held at high school
The Greater Bath Chamber of Commerce sponsored a forum titled “Stop the Stigma: Raising Opioid Awareness in Our Community” April 24 at Northampton Area High School, 1619 Laubach Ave.
Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), an advocacy group consisting mostly of family members of people with mental illness and addiction, reports “stigma harms the one in five Americans affected by mental health [addiction] conditions. It shames them into silence and prevents them from seeking help.”
Ann Flood, Greater Bath Chamber chair, opened the event. She thanked all who attended the gathering.
A short film clip found on YouTube titled “Hey Charlie” was viewed. It is a poignant story of the arbitrary harshness of addiction and resulting death. It is a must-view to help understand the power addiction illness has over the person and his or her family.
Six panelists kicked off the event with brief remarks followed by a question-and-answer segment.
Robert Steckel, Northampton Area School District assistant superintendent, spoke first.
“Schools see the genesis of addiction and work to help students get through school to get the help they need,” he said.
He expressed the frustration in working for years to help a student successfully navigate the school system, only to have the student die due to an overdose at age 18 or 19.
Paige Roth, a Lehigh Valley Health Network addiction recovery specialist, spoke about her personal recovery journey. Roth emphasized the need for all to work to reduce the stigma against those with Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
Dr. Matthew McCambridge, an LVHN physician leader, talked about the strides made in reducing the number of prescriptions written for opiates. The health care record called Epic used by LVHN and St. Luke’s Hospital was a billion-dollar investment to provide better health care. It also monitors physicians’ prescribing patterns.
“Using Epic, we can monitor outlier physicians who may be overprescribing opioids,” McCambridge said. “We have increased awareness of the provider community, but there is a lot of improvement needed.”
The next speaker was a case manager from Northampton County, Jordan Scott. She explained the need to break stigma by using the concept of person-first language. Scott urged those present to say a “person with SUD,” rather than calling the person an addict. Being in recovery herself, Scott relayed instances when she overheard hurtful, uninformed stigmatizing statements about SUD.
Northampton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Craig Dally explained the success of the county’s drug court efforts. The court’s goal is to divert people with SUD from jail. Dally emphasized addiction can touch anyone, no matter his or her background.
“Efforts to strengthen public health and safety are needed to stem the flow of drugs and addiction,” he noted.
The final speaker was Tara Henry-Morrow. A paramedic from LVHN, she is the EMS liaison. Henry-Morrow explained the process of EMS responders to a drug overdose. All panelists expressed in varying degrees that persistent stigma continues to surround addiction.
The Q&A segment was dominated by questions about medical marijuana and decriminalizing marijuana for personal use. Most present voiced opposition to marijuana decriminalization.
Steckel was asked if there is a drug problem in the school district.
“NHS doesn’t have a drug problem; the state of Pennsylvania does,” he responded.
The conversation continued to say there is a need for licensed counselors to assist with SUD experienced in schools.
A Northampton woman shared her experience with The Press. She lost a 15-year-old son to SUD two years ago. She talked about the pain and uncertainty of the family’s experience trying to help her son.
“People just don’t understand what it is like to go through this,” she said, regarding the stigma and pain of the loss.