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Opioid forum offers avenues to escape addiction

The Bucks County Opioid Resources Fair at Lubavitch of Bucks County on Thursday. (Bill Fraser / Staff Photojournalist)

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub were among the guest speakers at the town hall meeting and resource fair hosted by Lubavitch of Bucks County in Newtown Borough.

A Newtown rabbi is asking the community to help build an ark in an attempt to save the lives of those drowning in addiction, as opioids continue to flood the country.

Speaking Thursday at a town hall meeting and resource fair at Lubavitch of Bucks County in Newtown Borough, Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov announced the launch of ARC House, which stands for Addiction Resource Center.

Described as a grassroots effort to guide those struggling with addiction toward those who can help them achieve long-term sobriety, he asked everyone in the room to take out their cellphones and log on to archousepa.org to volunteer.

Members of recovery organizations such as Narcotics Anonymous, White Deer Run Treatment Network and the Council Rock Coalition for Healthy Youth manned information tables throughout the building.

Shemtov said he was happy to see such a large turnout, but said the fact that such a large crowd had attended illustrated the severity of the drug epidemic.

“The issues we are dealing with, opioid abuse and mental health issues, don’t know any boundaries,” he said. “It doesn’t look at the color of your skin, your religion, your gender, it touches every human being.”

Co-organizing the event along with Lubavitch was the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission.

During his remarks, Shapiro said heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl kill an average of 15 Pennsylvania residents every day.

While explaining that addiction is a disease and not a crime, Shapiro highlighted the efforts of his office to prosecute drug dealers who are “destroying lives for their own profit or greed” as well as medical professionals operating pill mills.

“Whether on the street corner or in the doctor’s office, if you’re breaking the law we’re going to hold you accountable,” said Shapiro. His office, he noted, is also investigating pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors that he said are culpable in the crisis.

Attending Thursday along with a long list of elected officials and law enforcement officers was Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick. He told the crowd that in working with Bucks County school districts he came to learn that high school athletes face a particularly high risk of becoming addicted to painkillers after being injured. Fitzpatrick will serve as Chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force in Washington beginning in February.

Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub pointed to the Push Out the Pusher campaign, formed along with state Rep. John Galloway, of Falls, as a community-driven effort to eradicate drug dealing by way of anonymous tips.

Tipsters have been credited with leading to the breakup of two alleged heroin rings — one in Lower Bucks and another in Warminster, which Weintraub said generated $8 million per week.

He touted Bucks County as the No. 1 collector of unused, unwanted medication during statewide drug takeback events that aim to keep pills out of the hands of those battling addiction.

Before making her way inside to hear from officials and peruse the pamphlets offered by recovery groups, Randi Dichter, an assistant teacher at Bensalem High School, took a peek inside a bedroom.

Parked outside the building was a mobile mock bedroom of a typical teenager presented by Bensalem police and the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission.

The exhibit is designed to show parents where their child might be hiding drugs or provide insight into any red flags that signal a variety of mental health struggles.

Dichter called it an eye-opening experience as she explored it along with a co-worker.

“We have kids that have drug problems at the high school and we wanted to be more aware of what’s going on so we could be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” she said.

If Bucks County is going to reverse the tide that saw 231 fatal overdoses in 2017 — a 38 percent increase of those recorded in 2016 — most officials on Thursday agreed the key is erasing the unwarranted shame associated with addiction.

“There are people who are suffering,” said Shapiro, “people who need us to reduce the stigma of raising your hand to say ‘I need help.’”

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