From Washington to Williamsport, a sobering assessment of opioid epidemic

In Washington last Thursday, President Trump, who lost a brother to alcoholism, was declaring opioid abuse in this country a national emergency. In Williamsport on the same day, a state public hearing was the backdrop for a sobering assessment of where our own community stands with the crisis. It stands on shaky ground.

Lycoming County President Judge Nancy L. Butts recounted for officials a 48-hour period this past summer in which there were 51 reported opioid overdoses.

“To say we are overwhelmed would be an understatement,” she testified.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s numbers backed up that assessment. He said more than 4,600 people suffered fatal overdoses from opioids in 2016, an increase of 36 percent from the previous years.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this crisis,” he added, referring to addiction as a disease and not a crime.

Lycoming County has in place a number of alternative programs to deal with addiction and has in place Project Bald Eagle, a well-coordinated community effort crossing all professional realms meant to deal with the problem. And still there are moments like the two-day overdose spree.

President Trump made an eloquent, heartfelt appeal to the nation for problem-solving and his declaration allows the government to redirect resources in various ways and to expand access to medical services in rural areas.

Critics want more money spent on the problem. That probably is necessary, but just as arrests alone won’t solve the problem, neither will money. It needs to be applied where it makes sense, which, in our view, is broader education in our schools. That’s a path to reducing the incidence of addiction over decades, not months, but this is a problem that will take a long time to solve.

But without solutions, a deteriorating society is the long-term result. And no one – not in Williamsport or Harrisburg or Washington – wants that.