2 on task force brief city council

A physician and a county judge on the Lycoming County Heroin Task Force spoke to City Council Thursday about the lethal epidemic that is taking away the young, middle-aged and old in the community.

The portal from prescription drugs such as hydrocodone and Percocet to heroin use is wide open and was described by Dr. Rene Rigal, city Board of Health officer and member of the task force.

He was joined by task force founder Nancy L. Butts, an emergency medical technician and president judge of Lycoming County.

“Clair got a heroin package from her friend to celebrate her Sweet 15,” Rigal said.

“Bobby, who was in Germany after being deployed in Afghanistan, had a car accident, was placed on narcotics and then progressed to heroin. He died due to an overdose.

“Mary-Sue, a teacher, complained of chronic headaches. Her doctor gave her narcotics. She was also depressed and stressed and was thus placed on Klonopin. She loved her job and kids, became a heroin addict. She went to a methadone clinic, was given 60 mg of methadone. Her heart stopped.”

“True stories and what is happening in this community,” Rigal said.

“We are in the midst of a very serious epidemic that is killing our children and exposing them to a life of misery,” he said.

“Prescription drug abuse-related deaths are the top cause of death for those between the ages of 18 and 32,” and more Americans have driving under the influence charges due to narcotics than due to alcohol,” Rigal noted.

One in four teens, or 24 percent, have used prescription narcotics recreationally, and 20 percent before they are 14, he said. One in four teenagers don’t view prescription drug abuse as a problem, he added.

“Many of their parents don’t see it as a problem, either.”

Rigal said doctors with “happy pens” are keeping the portal open wider.

He explained there is no evidence that narcotics work in the treatment of chronic pain as a main form of therapy, and that organizations such as the board and task force must work to teach fellow physicians and patients of what are the right treatments.

Recent efforts to provide drug disposal units around the county are a step and people must dispose of unused narcotics in the medicine cabinets so children don’t have access, Rigal said.

Butts spoke of her hope for passage of the state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Legislation is in the Senate and passage of the bill if it is signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett would ensure the medical community is monitored as it prescribes narcotics.

As it is now, the state is one that does not monitor those prescribing the narcotics, which means a prescription can be made out here by a physician, and the user travel into another state and get it filled – repeatedly.

Butts said the state doesn’t want to see addicts but it is an unintended consequence of not passing the law.

After being asked by Councilman Jonathan Williamson, Butts also spoke of legislative trends regarding Narcan, a drug that can reverse narcotic overdose and the Good Samaritan 911 legislation, which would allow someone not to be afraid to call in an emergency for fear of getting into legal trouble.

“We see that legislation going hand-in-hand,” she said.

Rigal credited efforts by the city codes enforcement department and administrator Joe Gerardi as they seek to enforce building codes and to work with police who can eventually stop landlords and tenants from harboring individuals intent on doing harm.

Rigal and Butts said the appreciate the efforts of the members who have been recruited on the task force including, but not limited to the Rev. Andrew France, Shea Madden, director of the West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, County Coroner Charles E. Kiessing Jr., Jim Maiolo, District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt, and Vincent Matteo, president and CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.

As he reviewed recent statistics, he said, there is an unintended death due to a narcotic overdose every 14 minutes.

Rigal said the nation has lost the war on drugs, but efforts of eradicating the heroin/prescription drug epidemic are not insurmountable. A generation ago, Jonas Salk, a state physician, saved a generation of children from the polio epidemic.

Councilwoman Liz Miele said Rigal’s claim the nation is losing the war on drugs may be accurate, but the city and county can win the battles by tackling the epidemic in a comprehensive way, showing compassion to addicts and displaying an iron fist to the dealers and pushers.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana or a designee will attend the task force meetings and report findings to the city public safety committee.