Discussion sparks ideas for outreach

Continuing the discussion on the increasing heroin problem within the county, the heroin task force again called upon a diverse group of members of the community to meet Friday to find ways to best combat the problem.

President Judge Nancy L. Butts, who leads the task force, broke the large group of community members into smaller groups based on their specialty – law enforcement, education, social services, medical, faith-based and community – in order to discuss the “next best step” moving forward with action.

She also introduced the group’s mission statement draft in order to give it direction. She announced that the mission of the group is to “reduce the incidence of substance abuse through community education and recovery options directed towards the citizens and youth of Lycoming County.”

“We need to start doing things because if we don’t, people will continue to die,” said Judge Marc F. Lovecchio on the importance of the group.

Groups were asked to discuss what they see as the problem and how best to solve it.

Each group also elected one representative to be a part of the task force’s steering committee.

After reconvening as a group, each shared their thoughts on the situation. Many groups spoke about how education was the key to preventing further use.

Dr. Portia Brandt, Muncy School District superintendent, explained the group needs to find popular venues to share their message of the dangers of heroin use.

Others agreed saying that getting in front of the problem is important. And they stressed that all members of the community need to receive the education.

Jim Maiolo, a community member, suggested that families of those addicted to heroin or recovered addicts speaking would be a powerful program to offer to the community.

County District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt also mentioned resurrecting DARE programs to inform the youth of the dangers of drug use.

Rev. Andy France, Lycoming County Prison chaplain, suggested a panel of faith representatives in middle schools to discuss the problem, as well. He also said that those strong in faith could talk about their struggles with substance abuse during services. He suggested a “substance-abuse Sunday” where various churches could reach out to the community.

Carole Gilberti, regional director of Community Care Behavioral Health, said their field should be more in the community, not only diagnosing but starting discussions with residents.

With the medical field, Bethany Engel, a physician assistant, added that their group spoke on building a multi-faceted approach to further addressing the handling of addiction.

Linhardt added that “more aggressive patrols” also were needed to keep an eye out for the drug problem. But like all things, he said, it would take additional funds to do many of the proposals. Lovecchio also added that he would like to increase testing but, again, it would be expensive.

Lovecchio noted that when he asks addicts how often they should be tested they reply, “All the time.”

A mother of an addict, who declined to give her name, also spoke about the importance of giving families an avenue to find help for their family member without putting them “in the system.”

She said many times, families are not sure who to call for help with a problem they don’t completely understand themselves.

Some members of the task force suggested that it should encourage business members to be a part of the group, as they also are affected by the problem. Butts said that all members of the community are welcome and encouraged to join the task force.

Others suggested creating a logo to make the group more visible to the public.

Lovecchio concluded the meeting by saying that it was “on the right track.”

When asked, Butts explained that having such a diverse group was important when building the task force because it is a community problem.

“Our community is not just one type of group,” she said.