As reported in the Altoona Mirror:
Agencies collaborate to fight opioid crisis
JUL 9, 2018
LEWISTOWN — This is not the first time Mifflin County has had a problem with opioid use.
In the early 2000s, the county faced a heroin epidemic largely attributed to U.S. 322 being the connector between major Penn¬sylvania cities.
“It felt like we were on an island and didn’t have the tools we needed 15 years ago,” recalled Mike Hannon, executive director of the Juniata Valley Tri-County Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission. “Now, we are a lot more prepared. The state and federal governments are giving us funding to adequately fight the crisis this time.”
While the current epidemic is more widespread than before, Hannon said his organization, along with the Mifflin County Commissioners, police and other public safety services are able to be proactive.
Hannon and the commission distribute kits to Fame EMS of Lewistown, which then supplies local police with two kits per officer.
Troy Long, a captain and paramedic at Fame, said EMS crews have had to use Narcan on seven patients so far this year. “It goes in spurts,” he said. “This doesn’t mean there are less people using opioids. In my experience, this generally means the supply is kind of stable.”
Long explained that each batch of heroin is “cut” with a certain amount of fentanyl. Users never know how much fentanyl is in their heroin, or if it is made with medical grade fentanyl, which is 100 times stronger than morphine.
“For example, if we take two Tylenol for a headache, we know exactly how much (acetaminophen) is in each tablet,” Long said. “That’s not the case for heroin users.”
Commissioner Rob Postal said the Mifflin County Correctional Facility has a “warm handoff”program that helps addicts find a place in society, preventing them from returning to their old habits.
“If you don’t have a place to go or job skills, you will return to the jail,” Commissioner Steve Dunkle said. “Inmates work with entities while still in prison to make the transition out of jail.”
Help in curbing Mifflin County’s opioid problem relies on having enough financial support.
“Funding needs to trickle down to treatment services that are local,” Postal said. “We need to get it faster.”
Mifflin County agencies are finding a way to receive more funding.
Lisa Stalnaker of the county’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board constantly searches for grants to help fund all agencies that help victims of opioid abuse.
Between the efforts of Hannon and Stalnaker, Mifflin County was granted 600 Dettra pouches, which are for prescription drug disposal.
“We are working with the Area Agency on Aging and Communities that Care to distribute the packets,” Hannon said. “We are targeting the elderly, as transportation is an issue for them.”
Safe prescription disposal can be a big factor in reducing opioid abuse.
“We encourage everyone to use prescription drop-boxes,” Postal said. “When you’re done with a prescription, get rid of it. Don’t flush it; take it to a drop-box.” Drop-boxes are often located in police stations and sheriff’s offices.
“Opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate and it does happen to anybody. Now, we have more resources available to fight crisis and we appreciate that,” said Hannon. “The collaboration among agencies in rural Pennsylvania is the strongest asset we have against the problem,” he said.