Heroin: Our problem

MUNCY – Heroin is everyone’s problem. Education is the answer.

From testimonies by police officers and a medical expert, to those who have dealt with drug abuse and addiction on a personal level, that was the prevailing sentiment Monday night at a town hall meeting hosted by the Lycoming County Heroin Task Force, the West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission and state police at the Paul Geringer Social Hall.

The town hall, packed with citizens and community figures, was a testament to the extent heroin and prescription drug abuse has had on Lycoming County in recent years. Muncy Borough Police Chief Jim Dorman said drug abuse no longer is a Williamsport problem.

“The problem has expanded out of the city and into smaller communities,” Dorman said, adding that it is just as much Muncy’s problem as it is anyone else’s, citing a recent drug arrest his department made. “People don’t realize it’s here,” he said after a woman in the audience referenced the borough’s drug usage problem.

Dorman said drug-related crimes are opportunistic, that first-time offenders will check unlocked car doors for money or property to sell for drugs. Even in “little Muncy,” he said.

Nancy Butts concurred. Butts, who is the Lycoming County president judge and chairwoman of the heroin task force, said drug abuse can start when someone starts hanging out with the wrong crowd.

The problem also can start at home, said state police Sgt. Shawn Toboz, a drug recognition expert out of Troop F in Lamar. Toboz said drug abuse can begin when kids get into their parents’ medicine cabinets – drugs, which may find

their way into schools at some point. He urged parents to take advantage of local prescription drug take-back boxes to dispose of drugs they no longer use. He said drug addicts can come from homes with good parents and bad parents, citing his own brother’s struggle with substance abuse.

“Once you taste heroin, you’re going to keep coming back,” he said. “It’s an evil disease.”

That drug addiction is a disease, and not a choice, was a hard lesson learned for Bill Boyles and his wife, Christine, whose daughter died of a heroin overdose last August after she had been clean for some time. Boyles said watching his daughter go through drug treatment court helped educate him about the nature of addiction.

Dr. Gregory Frailey, of Susquehanna Health, said addiction is a “problem with the way the brain processes what occurs in it.”

He said if addiction is approached from that perspective, more time can be spent helping drug abusers, instead of blaming them. “There are personality types that allow you to become addicted to different things,” he said.

A man in the audience who struggled with alcoholism agreed.

“It wasn’t until everything in my life was stripped that I knew I needed help,” he said. “It’s a disease. To continue it is not a choice.”

Frailey added the county doesn’t have enough resources to help everyone. That’s why he encourages preventative treatment, specifically, working from home and keeping an eye on children.

“Preventing the problem is the thing we can do best,” he said.

Katie, a woman who struggled with heroin addiction for 12 years, said she had a choice trying heroin the first time. But after that, she had no control.

“I didn’t have a horrible childhood,” Katie said. “It just kind of happened,” re-emphasizing that drug addiction affects all types of people.

Katie, now close to two years sober, said she had to be “forced” into the idea of getting help. “Heroin is a mental obsession,” she said. “In 2009, law enforcement caught up with me, thank God.”

Katie later graduated from drug treatment court at the Lycoming County Prison.

“I’m a mother again today, and a good employee again today,” she said.

Drug abuse also is an economic problem, said Muncy Township Police Chief Christopher McKibben.

McKibben said his township includes the Lycoming Mall and Target, about 165 businesses. He said from January of this year to the present day, 93 percent of retail thefts in the business that reported them were heroin-related.

“Not drug-related,” he said. “Heroin-related.” He added that 70 percent of criminal complaint arrests in the township are heroin-related as well. He said the money the businesses lose to retail theft – about $2 million to $3 million a year – is everyone’s money.

“It doesn’t matter who you are,” he said.