Not only dealing with the Pandemic, but health experts also say that efforts to combat overdose deaths worked before COVID so they can work again. Crispen Havener looks at how local and state leaders are working toward the future.
“It’s really taken us down.”
Stephanie Laboo from Johnstown, says she was a drug addict for 37 years.
“I was scared and I was tired. I’ve been being robbed. Then the pandemic came when the culprit came out. It scared me even more. I was crying. I was dying. But sought help.”
She’s now 18 months clean.
“At first it was hard, and it was scary because I was reaching out to people that was trying to help me. But I didn’t stop. I kept going.”
Unfortunately, many more people did not, thanks to the pandemic. We saw that number shoot up again. After years of positive gains, Pennsylvania’s overdose deaths went up drastically in 2020. Now, state health leaders are trying to reign that number.
Back in Pennsylvania, Department of Drug and Alcohol Program Secretary Jen Smith being a statewide tour in Johnstown, Tuesday as the department prepares a new report on the issue next year, talking to local leaders about what’s working and where more help is needed.
“We really do need to kind of double down on our efforts to address substance use disorder. I think COVID really taught us that there is a very close connection between mental health issues and substance use disorder.”
One thing Secretary Smith says has been vital is a shift in people’s attitudes towards drug users.
“One of the byproducts of having such a crisis in Pennsylvania, where we’re losing so many people is that it has personally touched now many, many individuals. And so we’re starting to see that change and stigma change in language, change in attitude where we do believe that helping people is absolutely necessary. And one of the ways we can do that is by having Narcan.”
Laboo spoke to the group about the realities outside this conference room
“But in realizing the money that they have, they have for the addiction. They don’t have it to give us a co-pay”
“And making free Narcan more widely available.
“And I know people that’s out there need that energy to keep themselves living because you can die in the snap of a finger. I know I did it twice and I’m here to talk about it today.”
Ideas and conversations that Smith hopes that help shape the future.
“This is going to be a really important plan to have in place so that we can say to the next governor and his staff, Look, we talked to people all across the state and they’ll already have that kind of package complete and be ready to hit the ground running”