PHILADELPHIA – More than 50 print, digital and broadcast news organizations highlight the diverse and sometimes unusual tactics used to combat the devastating effects of the opioid crisis across Pennsylvania, from the smallest cities to the world largest cities.
A goal of the media collaboration "Emergency: Finding Solutions to the Opioid Crisis in Pennsylvania" was to ensure communities across the state are aware of strategies, innovations and community efforts that help alleviate or at least promise the crisis be.
"Everybody has seen the statistics of fatal overdoses, stories about EMTs that keep resurrecting the same addict, the new, more dangerous drugs, we've all reported this terrible epidemic for a long time," said Cate Barron of PennLive / The Patriot News, one of the publishers who organized the effort.
The Pennsylvania Associated Press media editors and the Pennsylvania Society of News editors called news agencies in April to document possible solutions and share their stories with all participants in the project.
"We have found much out there to give real hope," Barron said.
In 2016, more than 2,200 Pennsylvanians died of opioid overdoses, the fourth-highest rate in the US, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Stories from nearly all 67 counties in the country, which are released or broadcast on Sunday, show how authorities, businesses, first responders, families of victims and ordinary citizens are fighting the opioid crisis. The parents are turning grief into action, the police are working to understand the addiction, and the counties are helping the convalescents to find meaningful work and keep families together.
In Lucerne County, Judy Provanzo founded a self-help group after her 22-year-old son Michael died of an overdose. A few weeks after their meetings, the women in the group decided that talking was not enough and they wanted to do something to keep the memories of their children alive and to help others who are suffering. They decided to fill backpacks with toiletries and warm letters of appreciation and donate them to those who came to rehabilitation centers.
"On the day Mikey died part of me and his father died with him, I share that with you in the hope that it will help you on your journey," states a note from Provanzo. "If you feel you want to give up, please think about Mikey and how my heart breaks without having him, remember that you are loved, and you can do it one day."
In the district Columbia Berwick police are trying to help people with opioid dependence and lead them to treatment, even if they take drugs dealers.
"We are here to protect and serve," said Police Chief Kenneth Strish. "This includes addicts."
An experienced Little League referee picks up news about the dangers of opioids in Lycoming County. Barry Rake started his initiative last fall and has already distributed around 7,000 water bottles in the county, with the help of about a dozen volunteers. The plastic sports bottles carry the slogan "Too Smart to Start" and contain a message about drug abuse to the parents.
A program in Somerset County seeks to help adults recover from addiction by finding meaningful employment. The Chamber of Commerce says that the efforts also help meet the needs of employers who have shrunk in the face of the opioid crisis.
"These are people at a crossroads," said Ron Aldom, director of the District Chamber of Commerce. "In many cases, these are well-educated, university-educated people committed to turning their lives around." The idea behind Operation Hope Shot is, "Let's make them a commitment."
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