Erica McNamera, Director of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse (RCASA), opened the September 28 annual meeting by highlighting some of the Coaltion’s activities over the past year. McNamera spoke about the Active Parenting Program, the medication drop-off program at the police station, which has collected over one million pills since its implementation, and the use of the Interface Heath Service. Interface provides specific mental health referrals for Reading residents who call the service. RCASA ended the year with National Recovery month during the month of September. The annual meeting serving as a capstone for the month. During the month, RCASA was involved in the Reading Fall Street Faire, held a joint meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, and participated in a Candlelight Vigil for Recovery. RCASA also partnered with local churches to make blankets for Project Linus, which provides the blankets for those in need when a overdose crisis occurs in a family.
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan spoke about the opioid crisis in Middlesex County. Ryan got involved with the opioid crisis in 2012, when there were sixty-five overdose deaths in Middlesex County. Despite all of the energy and work put into the fight, there were over 250 such deaths in 2016. Ryan believes that there will be a decrease in fatal overdoses in the county in 2017. “We didn’t get into this problem in a minute and we won’t get out of it in a minute,” Ryan explained. According to McNamara there have been twenty drug related responses for emergency responders in Reading so far this year.
Ryan spoke extensively about panels she had conducted comprised of people who are in drug abuse recovery and are between 20-30 years old. She mentioned three areas that stood out for her about those panel discussions. The first was that even single person reported that they began to use substances at an early age, usually between the ages of 12 and 15. Most said it started with alcohol, then moved to marijuana, then to other substances. Fifty percent reported a predispositon of abuse from their families. Ryan urged parents in the audience to have conversations with their children about substance use, and to be specific. “If you are asking if it is time to have the conversation, it is probably time to have the conversation,” Ryan stated. “Start by asking what they are aware of about substances, you will be shocked at what your nine-year old already knows,” she continued.
The second factor the panels unearthed was that substance use often was used to help deal with unaddressed trauma in the lives of the children. Some of the instances may not seem traumatic to adults, but were real to the panelists. Ryan pointed out that the behavior of dealing with trauma through substance use was often copied from the home. “Do you deal with a bad day by having a glass of wine or popping a pill when you come home?” Ryan asked, “Where do you think the behavior is learned?”
Ryan concluded with the third factor, which was easy access to prescription opioids. She reported that seventy percent of misused drugs come out of medicine cabinets. Ryan urged the audience to use the receptacle at the police station, or other methods, to dispose of excess medicine when it is no longer needed. She also mentioned that they are working with healthcare providers to determine alternate medicines that can be prescribed.
“We are doing this together as a united front,” Ryan concluded. Speaking about the need for prevention, “Recovery is possible, but there are more tragedies than recoveries.”
Part two of The Reading Post’s coverage of the RCASA annual meeting can be found HERE.