The Response - 5

from the coalition

Who We Are:

Berks Opioid Coalition
by Coalition Co-Chairs: Kevin S. Barnhardt, Commissioner,
County of Berks, and Stanley J. Papademetriou, Executive Director,
Council on Chemical Abuse


ike many communities across Pennsylvania and the United
States, Berks County is in the grip of an unprecedented opioid
epidemic fueled by soaring abuse of such highly addictive
and dangerous drugs as heroin, fentanyl and other prescription
opioid painkillers. The current opioid crisis clearly meets the
dictionary definition of an epidemic: an unusually high occurrence
of a disease or illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control
(CDC), on the average, 115 people die every day in the United
States from an opioid overdose. There are approximately one and
a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than
deaths from motor vehicle crashes. By far, the most alarming
indicator of the severity of the opioid epidemic is the significant
increase in overdose deaths. The impact of this epidemic has and
continues to be felt in Berks County. There has been an over
80% increase in the number of drug overdose deaths from 2014 to
2017 in Berks County. This sobering statistic alone speaks to the
impact of the abuse of opioid drugs on the health and well-being
of our community.

	 2016 was a watershed year for overdose deaths in Berks County.
In that year the impact of opioid abuse and overdoses was felt
the strongest in our community. There were 123 overdose deaths
in 2016. This equates to ten of our fellow community members

dying each month from a preventable cause. Think of that - ten
family members, friends, co-workers, classmates, or neighbors
that you will no longer see or interact with. This epidemic does
not discriminate by race, gender, age, educational attainment or
social status. From the streets of Reading to the suburban and
rural areas of Berks County, families have lost loved ones at an
alarming rate. There were daily media reports portraying the woes
of the opioid crisis. First responders arriving just in time or just too
late, emergency rooms receiving a constant flow of opioid-related
cases, law enforcement fearing for the safety of the community
due to stronger and stronger illicit opioids available, parents losing
children, young children losing parents.
When will it end? Where will it end? This is not just a
legal problem, this is not just a substance use problem,
this is not just a medical problem; this is a community
problem which requires a community solution.
	 Berks County key decision-makers recognized their responsibility
to respond to this epidemic. The Berks County Criminal Justice
Advisory Board, comprised of leaders from the criminal justice
system, Berks County Board of Commissioners, law enforcement,
drug and alcohol, and mental health systems, convened the Berks



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