Opioid discussion set for later this month

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, speaks with the Williamsport Sun-Gazette editorial board in the city on Thursday morning.

A public hearing to discuss the opioid epidemic set for Oct. 26 in Williamsport will bring together professionals from law enforcement, drug treatment, business and industry, and those in drug recovery.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, board chairman for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, which is holding the hearing, said he hopes the information to be shared will shed light on what has happened over the past three years statewide with opioid addiction.

“In 2014, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania held its first public hearing on the heroin and opioid crisis affecting the commonwealth,” he said. “That hearing, also held in Williamsport, was followed by 11 additional public hearings over the next two years, resulting in over 70 hours of presentations from more than 150 professionals, family members, and people in recovery. The hearings created statewide awareness supporting and resulting in numerous legislative and administrative initiatives to combat a disease that now claims more lives each year than those lost to traffic accidents.”

Yaw noted that opioid addiction cuts across all demographics, but the outcry over the crisis still remains somewhat muted.

“Why aren’t we more concerned about it?” he asked. “Everybody can be affected by this.”

He noted that while the public has done a good job of bringing awareness to the problem, much work remains to be done.

Laws can be passed in response to the addiction crisis, but will never solve it.

“We can’t fix it legislatively,” he said.

He lamented the mindset remains among many that heroin addiction is relegated to “low-life people.”

The fact is, he said, that some 80 percent of heroin users become addicts by starting with prescription pills.

“We need to get over this stigma. We need to treat this as a diseases,” he said.

Joining Yaw at the hearing will be fellow Center board members, including vice chairman and state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy; board secretary Dr. Nancy Falvo from Clarion University, president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania Dr. Michael Driscoll, and Penn State professor Dr. Timothy Kelsey.

Yaw said it’s the chance for people of various backgrounds to offer different perspectives on the issue.

“We are open to suggestions,” he said.

The hearing will be held in the Walnut Conference Center, UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport Regional Medical Center, 700 High St.