Free access to naloxone has drawn the lion’s share of attention recently in the fight against heroin and opioid abuse in Pennsylvania, but there are many other developments that are having a positive influence in reversing this epidemic.
Just last week, the local United in Recovery Coalition (itself born from the addiction fight) announced it has hired a “stigma reduction and education specialist.” And on Monday, Gov. Wolf’s office reiterated its “pledge” to combat the opioid crisis.
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Those doubting the value of a stigma reduction and education specialist may be swayed by Melissa Farrow’s “background.” It’s not her education or experience or a certain passion for ending opioid and heroin abuse; no, her validation is found in the fact that she was the parent of an addict. As she told us, that makes the fight against addition “a personal issue.”
Who better to judge the need for stigma reduction and education than someone who lived the continuing pain and suffering of an addict and the impact on family members? Imagine the lessons learned through coping with your own child’s disease and how the public reacts to it. Imagine the lessons learned from lack of information and misinformation and, eventually, knowing the truth.
Armed with her experience, and the resources of the coalition, Farrow will reach out to medical professionals, first responders, school officials, civic groups and anyone else who requests training in stigma reduction as it relates to substance abuse disorders. Oh, yes, and she will provide training in the administration of naloxone.
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At the state level, what stands out to us as having improved over the past few years is treatment. The Wolf Administration noted the Department of Human Services (DHS) in 2015 opened 45 Centers of Excellence for opioid use disorder treatment across the state.
The state has also introduced, through the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the warm handoff program to get more people into treatment for opioid use disorder.
The administration cites among the other outcomes of its efforts the following:
• The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program has reduced the prescription of opioids by more than 20 percent and has virtually eliminated doctor shopping.
• The waiver of birth certificate fees for those with opioid use disorder has helped more than 1,100 people gain easier entry into recovery programs.
• More than 22,000 physicians have received training on how to prescribe opioids cautiously and judiciously.
• The Get Help Now Hotline received more than 15,000 calls this year, with 45 percent of callers connected directly to a treatment provider.
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Indeed, we have all played a role in reducing the stigma of opioid addiction, and we’ve accomplished that through compassion and a willingness to treat the epidemic as the disease it is. Here’s to more progress in 2019.