The Response - 6

from the coalition
County Opioid Task Force in 2016 to develop pro-active and
effective responses to the opioid epidemic at a local level. Over
the past two years, the Task Force has evolved into a Coalition of
70-plus individuals. These members are from various professional
disciplines, with diverse points of view and expertise. However,
there has been a singularity of purpose and common mission:
saving and improving the lives of Berks County residents. Through
its multi-disciplinary membership, the Berks Opioid Coalition has
developed a vision and a strategic plan that provides both direction
and accountability in our local responses to the epidemic.
	 Even before the Coalition was established, there were many
efforts underway to address overdose and opioid-related issues.
The District Attorney's office had already established numerous
medication drop boxes where individuals can safely discard unused
medication. This is important both to assure that these medications
do not end up in the wrong hands and that they are disposed
responsibly. A hugely successfully warm hand-off program had
been established by the Tower Health Reading Hospital, the
Council on Chemical Abuse, the Berks County HealthChoices
Program and the Treatment Access and Services Center.
This program helps individuals who are in the emergency room
due to an overdose or other opioid-related issue to smoothly
transfer to an appropriate drug and alcohol treatment service.
This program has been highlighted across the state for its
innovation and effectiveness. Recently, a partnership was developed
with Penn State St. Joseph Hospital to initiate a warm handoff
program to help address overdose issues and related issues at their
emergency room. Also, community education forums regarding
overdose and opioid use were presented by law enforcement and
other local organizations. These are just a few of the efforts that
were already taking place in 2016.
	 So if these things are already occurring, then why the need
for a Coalition? The reason is simple; the sum of our combined
talents and resources is greater than our individual efforts.
The Coalition meets monthly and there are subcommittees that
meet more often to develop ideas, to embrace collaboration and
to enhance cooperation to address this epidemic. One of the first
projects of the Coalition was the development of a community
educational presentation. This educational presentation is filled
with information regarding opioids, overdoses and resources in
the community. There have been numerous presentations made to
community groups and places of worship.
	 Naloxone is the lifesaving opioid overdose antidote that is
crucial in preventing overdose deaths. Recently, the Coalition
conducted an anonymous survey of local pharmacies to determine
the availability of Naloxone. The results of this survey indicate
the need to provide educational opportunities for some of our
local pharmacies. Through the Coalition's collaborative efforts,
funding grants have been received for several projects: to develop
family support programs for those inmates at Berks County Jail
who are receiving Medication Assisted Treatment, to initiate an
addiction stigma reduction program as it relates to the individual,
the family and the community, and to identify a Centralized

the response // summer/fall 2018

Coordinating Entity within Berks County to bolster distribution
of Naloxone for police, emergency medical services and other first
responders. Since November of 2017, close to 300 Naloxone kits
have been distributed to first responders through the Centralized
Coordinating Entity. In addition to all of this, one of the most
important areas the Coalition has and continues to develop is a
sense of hope. Hope that our community will heal and get better.
Without a sense of hope, no progress can be made.
	 A more recent development of the Coalition has been to brand
itself to be more recognizable by the community. It is crucial
for individuals to see the Coalition as not just a symbol of hope
against the opioid crisis, but even more importantly, a resource
for help and information. In the past two months, the Coalition
has named itself SOS Berks - Stop Overdoses...Save Lives. SOS
is the international code signal of extreme distress. In many
ways our community, our state and our nation are in a state of
distress. In October 2017, President Trump declared the opioid
epidemic a Public Health Emergency. In January 2018, Governor
Wolf declared the opioid crisis a Statewide Disaster Emergency.
The problem is real.
	 There is still much to be done. The opioid crisis has not subsided
or gone away. But, we are motivated by our past and current efforts
to propel us into future accomplishments. We seek to be able to
better gather and analyze pertinent local data to determine where
best to utilize resources. We seek to improve outreach education
and public awareness efforts in high risk but underserved
neighborhoods and communities. We seek to make the lifesaving
opioid antidote Naloxone more available to Berks County
residents. We seek to create more availability and easier access to
appropriate and necessary substance use treatment. Treatment
works and people recover. For that reason, for those with an
Opioid Use Disorder the best overdose prevention is sustained
recovery from addiction. We seek ways to support local law
enforcement to continue to make our streets and neighborhoods
safe. Overall, SOS Berks seeks to save and improve the lives of
Berks County residents.
	 What can you do? At a minimum, try to make yourself more
aware of the opioid problem and the available resources in the
community. This magazine has numerous articles and information
to give you a better understanding of the opioid crisis and the
resources available to address the problem. If you so choose,
you could organize a community education forum in your
neighborhood, civic organization or place of worship.
Whatever you choose to do, do something. SOS also is
an urgent appeal for help. SOS Berks - join the fight.
	 Berks County is a great place to live; let's keep it that way.


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Response

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